Merchant’s Liability for Falling Merchandise in North Carolina

Many people think of a storekeeper’s liability for injuries in terms of the classic slip and fall case. A customer strolling the aisles of a grocery store steps on a slippery patch and her feet go out from under her. Down she goes, easily breaking a hip or a wrist or damaging a disc. But there are other dangers for which a retailer may be liable; instead of falling customers, the problem could be falling merchandise.

Thousands of customers are injured each year by merchandise that falls from store shelves. A retailer has a duty to make the store reasonably safe for customers. This duty covers potentially dangerous conditions that employees can create by stacking merchandise precariously on store shelves. However, it can be very difficult to prove the storekeeper is at fault rather than another customer who handled merchandise and left it in a precarious position or the injured customer himself.  

Court cases across the country have provided certain standards of reasonable care for stocked shelves. For example, courts have found that stacking items on shelves about the eye level of the average person can created an “unwarranted risk.” Depending on the circumstances, a retailer may be required to take affirmative actions to increase customer safety, such as:

  • Using devices to stabilize merchandise
  • Regular checks of shelves to restock merchandise safely
  • Providing step boxes or stepladders for customers

An injured customer must show that the retailer was negligent, either by stacking items in a way that created unwarranted risk or in failing to re-stock items in a timely manner after they’d been handled and replaced haphazardly or otherwise shifted their position.

Any claim by an injured shopper is subject to the law of contributory negligence. In North Carolina, if the customer is found to have been negligent by, for example, climbing up a shelf to grab an item that was out of reach, state law completely bars any recovery of compensation.

If you or a loved one has been hurt by falling merchandise, get knowledgeable counsel from an experienced injury attorney. To schedule a free consultation at Lanier Law Group, P.A., call 919.848.2000.

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