Don’t Dance and Drink

You’re at a club; you’re on the dance floor; people are dancing with drinks in their hands; your foot hits a wet spot; and as a result of the fall, your leg gets broken. Is the club responsible for your injury? In Sarkisian v. Concept Restaurants, Inc., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court announced an expansion to the “mode of operation” claim in premises liability cases, reversing a lower court’s summary judgment verdict in favor of the nightclub, and permitting the plaintiff to move forward with her lawsuit. SJC-11786, slip op. (June 23, 2015).

The nightclub’s design was such that on the dance floor, capable of holding nearly 600 patrons, there were two bars from which patrons could purchase beverages. Patrons were also permitted to consume their beverages on the dance floor.

Traditionally, a plaintiff asserting premises liability has been required to show that the owner of the premises had actual or constructive notice of an unsafe condition that gave rise to an injury for which compensation is sought. See Sheehan v. Roche Bros. Supermkts., Inc., 448 Mass. 780, 788 (2007). Under the mode of operation approach, however, the plaintiff satisfies the notice requirement by showing that the injury was attributable to a reasonably foreseeable unsafe condition related to the owner’s chosen mode of operation. See id. At 786.

In this case, the Court found that it was reasonably forseeable that the nightclub’s “mode of operation” of having bars on the dance floor would result in liquid being spilt on the floor; and in a dimly lit setting with flashing strobe lights, “common sense tells us that the spill creates an unsafe condition that a patron is illsuited to discern.” The Court further found that in a case like this, the owner has “scarce incentive to act reasonably, because the injured patron will seldom be able to discern the origin of the unsafe condition, and thus satisfy the notice requirement under the traditional approach to premises liability.” See id. At 788. The business owner also did himself little favor by testifying in his deposition that “spills on the dance floor are part of the business.”

Don’t mistakenly believe that if you are injured on someone else’s property, even inadvertently, mistakenly or otherwise, that you have to just absorb the medical or other costs such an injury creates. Slip and fall rights continue to be an evolving legal issue. If you have concerns about an injury you suffered on someone else’s property, contact the attorneys at Hutchins Law, P.C. today.

The purpose of this article is to inform our clients of developments in the law and to provide information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or to assume a client relationship. The content of this article could be considered advertising under the rules of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Copyright © 2012 Hutchins Law, P.C. All Rights Reserved.