A surprisingly high number of people are injured each year when heavy merchandise falls off shelves or the shelves collapse, raining items down on consumers. At Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys, our legal team can review what happened to determine whether you have a legal right to sue.
Heavy items can send you to the hospital with serious injuries when they slide off a shelf, and stores should be aware of this risk. Ideally, they would train staff to shelve items properly and ensure that the heaviest items are on the ground. Sadly, stores often fall well short of this ideal. Contact our law firm so one of our premises liability lawyers can review whether you have a right to sue.
Injuries from Falling Merchandise
A heavy item can cause all sorts of traumatic injuries, including:
- Concussions. The item could land on your head or knock you over, slamming your head into the ground.
- Fractures. A heavy item could fracture bones in your shoulder, neck, or arms. A heavy item could also break one of the bones in your foot.
- Contusions. A heavy bruise could also form. If not treated, a contusion can cut off blood to other parts of your body, causing compartment syndrome.
- Crush injuries. If an entire shelf collapses, then heavy items could rest on your body for minutes or hours. Crush injuries have many complications and often lead to amputation.
- Back injuries. Many customers injure their backs pivoting to avoid a falling item and end up with a back sprain. Other serious back injuries include herniated discs, nerve damage, and fractured vertebrae.
Why Merchandise Falls
Our clients have suffered injuries in various stores, including Big Box stores, grocery stores, shopping malls, pharmacies, and smaller retailers. Here are some common reasons for these accidents.
Stacking Heavier Items Too High
The heavier items should be lower to the ground, precisely because a store doesn’t want them to fall on customers. Shelves which are too top-heavy are at risk of toppling over as well. Unfortunately, some stores put heavy items on the upper shelves, and customers can’t easily retrieve them. It’s easy for a customer to lose their grip, and the item can fall on them or someone nearby.
Improperly Shelving Items
Staff could leave items too close to the edge of the shelf, which increases the risk that an item falls off and strikes an unsuspecting customer. Items should be lined up properly.
Failing to Check Shelves
Customers are constantly taking items down and putting them back up when they change their mind about a purchase. A store can’t expect customers to reshelve items properly, so staff should regularly inspect the aisles and reposition items if necessary. Some stores are negligent and fail to perform regular inspections.
Improper Shelve Construction
Shelves should be sturdy enough that they remain standing even if a customer accident rams it with a cart or bumps into it. Poorly constructed shelves will topple too easily, sending items down on customers. Some shelves should be bolted to the wall, for added safety.
Poor Employee Training or Supervision
Stores must protect customers by training their employees in safety procedures. Some stores are lax in training employees on how to properly shelve items. Some stores see multiple accidents, month after month, without improving safety.
Can You Sue a Store for Falling Merchandise?
Like all property owners, stores owe visitors certain duties. A store which invites people to come inside owes the highest level of care to its customers. Under OCGA § 51-3-1, a property owner must use “ordinary care” in maintaining the premises for the safety of their invitees.
The property owner should:
- Avoid creating a dangerous condition, such as setting up rickety shelves or improperly shelving heavy items;
- Inspect the premises regularly for dangerous conditions, such as items which are poised to fall off a shelf;
- Promptly correct any hazard, which might include rearranging items in such a way that they are safe;
- Warning customers of hazards which are foreseeable.
These are only some of the steps a careful store should take. Too many stores are lax when it comes to safety.
To bring a legal claim, we typically need to show a hazardous condition existed and the store knew about it or should have known. We also need to show the store took no action to fix the hazard, or their actions were insufficient.
Stores often defend themselves by claiming another customer shelved the item improperly and/or they had no idea the hazard existed. Odds are, however, that improperly shelved items were there for a long time. And stores can’t stick their heads in the sand. They should have staff on the floor checking aisles regularly for hazards.
Steps to Take after an Accident
If you were hurt by falling merchandise, we recommend the following steps:
1. Get medical care. Falling merchandise often causes immediate, serious injuries. All you can do is ask someone to call an ambulance as you lie on the floor. In that case, skip to step 5. But if you are not in immediate pain, you can go to the hospital after finishing the other steps.
2. Photograph the hazard, if possible. Imagine an entire shelf collapses to the ground. Try to get pictures with your cell phone, which helps prove what happened.
3. Try to find witnesses. Witnesses could make a difference in your case. Although you might be too hurt, someone nearby can speak to witnesses and ask for their contact information.
4. Notify the store. Staff might be immediately on the scene after an accident. However, in a big box store, you might need to go get help. Tell the store as soon as possible what happened.
5. Consult an attorney. Your lawyer will have ideas for how to build your case. If the store’s insurer tries to contact you, please direct them to your legal team. There is no reason to give a recorded statement without your lawyer present.
Premises Liability Lawyers in Atlanta
Our firm has sued many of the largest retailers in Atlanta. Call us today at (404) 529-3476 to schedule a free consultation.