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NJ Appellate Division Upholds Dismissal of Plaintiff’s Premises Liability Claim (NJ)

January 22, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Quejada-v.-Shoprite.pdf">Quejada v. Shoprite</a></em>, plaintiff alleged she slipped and fell on water on Shoprite’s floor resulting in injuries to her spine. Plaintiff had slipped in an area close to where customers pay for their groceries. Plaintiff did not notice anything on the floor before her fall, but noticed her clothing was wet after she fell. Plaintiff did not know the source of the water. Plaintiff’s counsel provided a photograph of a nearby customer with packaged bottled water on the bottom of her shopping cart.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Shoprite moved for summary judgment, arguing that it lacked notice of the water on the floor. Plaintiff opposed by invoking the “mode of operation” rule which allows a plaintiff to prove her prima facie case without having to prove notice. The mode of operation rule may be invoked when the defendant store owner has self-service aspects of his business, such as a self-service soda machine in a fast-food restaurant. However, to invoke the rule, one must show a nexus between the self-service nature of the defendant’s store and the substance plaintiff slips or trips on.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Appellate Division, viewing all facts in favor of plaintiff, upheld the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s claim. While plaintiff slipped in what appeared to be water, there was no self-service open container liquid products for display or sale in the area. The Appellate Division made this ruling despite a prior Appellate Division case which allowed the plaintiff to invoke the mode of operation rule when she slipped on grapes near the checkout counter (even though the grapes were on display in another far away area in the store). The Court reasoned that there was no indication that the bottles of water were leaking, and that cases of bottled water “are so qualitatively unlike loose grapes in open-topped bags as to render [the prior case] inapposite".</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiffs often seek to invoke the mode of operation rule because if the rule is invoked, the plaintiff does not have to prove that the defendant had actual or constructive notice. As illustrated by this case, defendants may be able to defeat invocation of the rule by arguing that the plaintiff slipped in an area far away from any self-service aspect of the defendant’s business.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Mike Noblett for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact <a href="mailto:chayes@wcmlaw.com">Colleen Hayes</a>.</p>

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