The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court’s grant of summary judgment to a defendant hotel owner when there was no genuine factual dispute regarding the foreseeability of the unsafe condition causing the plaintiff’s fall.
Plaintiff Frances Amara attended a conference at a Sheraton Hotel owned by the defendant. On her second trip to the restroom, Amara slipped and fell on the ceramic floor, injuring herself. She placed her hands on the floor to get up, which became very wet from a foamy substance. She also noticed the smell of something akin to furniture polish. After she reported her fall, Sheraton personnel noticed an oily substance on the bathroom floor and the smell of furniture polish. A can of furniture polish, labeled “Radiance,” was located in a cabinet beneath the sink of the bathroom, “without a cap and dripping product.” France and her husband filed suit.
On appeal, Amara contended that the lower court erred in finding that the “mode of operation” approach to premises liability did not apply to the present case. Relying on the statement of a Sheraton housekeeping supervisor, she posited that a recent previous patron of the restroom–thinking the bottle contained room freshener–had sprayed the polish, which landed on the floor and created a very slippery surface. She argued that the hotel was negligent for leaving the can, which could be mistaken for room freshener, in a place easily accessible by members of the public using the restroom. She further claimed that the use of the furniture polish as a room freshener was reasonably foreseeable. The appeals court disagreed.
In upholding, the appeals court first explained Massachusetts’ approach to premises liability. Frances’ case hinged on the first element, under which a plaintiff must demonstrate that the owner of the premises had notice–actual or constructive–of the unsafe condition. In the context of “spillage” cases, this notice requirement is satisfied if the operator of the business caused the substance to be on the floor, the operator had actual knowledge of its presence, or the substance had been on the floor so long that the operator should have been aware of the condition.
The appeals court found there was no question that Amara could not satisfy the notice element under the traditional theory of premises liability. Amara maintained, however, that her claim should be viewed under the mode of operation approach. This approach recognizes that a proprietor’s manner of operation can create foreseeable hazards arising through the actions of third parties, thus mandating the proprietor to take reasonable steps necessary to protect against those foreseeable hazards.
The appeals court disagreed that this approach applied because the summary judgment record was devoid of evidence of any prior complaints about the bathroom’s condition, or any complaints or evidence of prior or potential use of polish as room freshener. Moreover, there was no evidence that the alleged storing of a cleaning product in a cabinet beneath a sink was a recurrent condition that had or would “regularly invite third-party interference resulting in the creation of unsafe conditions.” Thus, the plaintiffs did not establish foreseeability.
Finding no genuine issue of material fact supporting the claim that the defendant’s purported mode of operation was a “recurring feature” rather than only a “conceivabl[e]” risk, the court concluded the mode of operation approach did not apply. The appeals court therefore affirmed the judgment.
If you have been injured by another party’s negligence, you may face significant medical bills and time off work, and you may need the assistance of a premises liability lawyer to redress your injuries. At the Neumann Law Group, our personal injury attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to accident victims all over the state of Massachusetts. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.
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