Not a Basket Case-Case against Store Owner Dismissed After Plaintiff Fails To Prove Conduct of Store Employee Caused Her Injuries
A customer brought suit for damages against Market Basket Stores (“Market Basket”) for alleged injuries sustained while shopping with her cousins at the defendant’s store. The customer claimed to have suffered an injury to her right ankle after being struck by a stock cart which was recklessly operated by a store employee. The customer underwent surgery on her ankle approximately two years after the alleged accident.
In a negligence case against a property owner, a customer is required to prove five separate elements: (1) that the property owner had a duty to conform his conduct to a specific standard; (2) that the property owner’s conduct failed to conform to that standard; (3) that the substandard conduct was a cause-in-fact of the customer’s injury; (4) that the property owner’s substandard conduct was a legal cause of the customer’s injury; and (5) that the customer suffered actual damages. To prove the fourth element, legal causation, the customer must establish through medical or lay testimony that his injuries were more probably than not caused by the accident. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Market Basket after determining the employee was not at fault in causing the alleged injury; therefore, the issue of causation was not addressed.
The appellate court reversed the trial court’s finding of no fault on the part of the employee. In coming to this conclusion, the court relied on the fact that the employee was in exclusive control of the stock cart at the time of the accident. And, there was no reasonable factual basis for the jury to find the employee was without fault given that (1) no one else had control of the cart and (2) no one testified to the contrary. Despite this finding, the appellate court ultimately affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of Market Basket after determining the customer failed to prove the legal causation element of her claim. First, the court noted that although the store employee admitted an accident occurred, he unequivocal denied that the cart made contact with the customer. Furthermore, the employee testified that the customer told him she was fine and walked away after the accident like nothing happened. Finally, the court found critical inconsistencies and serious credibility issues with the testimony produced by the customer to prove legal causation. For example, the customer claimed to have been pinned under the cart after the accident, but the two witnesses she produced failed to verify that claim.
Take-Away: Even when a store employee is at fault in causing an accident, a plaintiff must prove that his injuries were caused by the employee’s conduct. It therefore is important that the store owner document each party’s version of the incident, along with any available witnesses’ version; have the involved employee describe the events of the accident; and document the customer’s physical condition immediately after the incident occurs.
This article was co-authored by Gary Langlois, Jr., a summer associate at Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC.