Burlington Coat Factory v. Butler – Alabama Appeals Court Weighs Retail Store Liability

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has reversed an earlier judgment in favor of a woman who suffered facial injuries in a retail store when a bracket fell on top of her as she reached for a sale item on a shelf.

In Burlington Coat Factory of Alabama v. Butler, the court sided with the defendant in finding the injured plaintiff failed to prove the retailer had breached a duty of care by failing to inspect and maintain its premises in a reasonable condition, or that the brackets presented a defective or dangerous condition.

Our Montgomery personal injury attorneys know when it comes to premises liability claims, it’s not enough to prove that an injury occurred on-site. Per the 2000 ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court in Kmart Corp. v. Basset, property owners owe a general duty to business invitees (i.e., customers) to, “use reasonable care and diligence to keep the property in a safe condition.” If there is a dangerous condition, the business is required to offer up sufficient warning so that, by use of ordinary care, the danger can be avoided.

In each case, the burden of proof of a dangerous or defective condition is on the injured party.

In the Butler case, a customer was reaching for a pillow situated on a metal bracket placed slightly above her head. The bracket reportedly came loose from the wall and fell onto her face. A lump formed above her left eyebrow, and she was later diagnosed with a nose fracture and deviated septum. She was forced to undergo surgery to correct the condition.

She later sued, alleging negligence or wantonness based on a theory of premises liability. A jury rendered a verdict in her favor, awarding her $26,000 in damages.

Upon appeal, the company cited testimony from store employees, indicating the brackets were either “in or out,” as they were affixed to slats on the wall. Workers also testified they inspected the shelves daily, and workers did not note that any of the shelves in that department were bowed or coming off the wall. The brackets that fell had reportedly been in place for months without issue.

Further, a worker indicated the customer appeared to be hitting the bottom of the bracket in order to dislodge one of the pillows, which would have caused the bracket to become dislodged and the shelf to fall.

Attorneys for the store argued the plaintiff had based her claim on the theory of res ipsa loquitur, which is a form of strict liability that doesn’t require evidence of defendant’s negligence. Such a claim would not be applicable under Alabama premises liability law. The appellate court agreed.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Burlington Coat Factory of Alabama v. Butler, June 13, 2014, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Verdugo v. Target Corp. – Retail Store Had No Duty to Keep Medical Device on Hand, June 17, 2014, Montgomery Premises Liability Lawyer Blog

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