Falling Merchandise Presents a Danger to Trusting Customers

Some stores, trying to press every square inch of store shelving space into service, are stocking goods higher than in the past, and putting more weight on shelves than some shelves are rated for by design. This spells danger for customers when precariously stacked merchandise falls. Falling merchandise can easily kill or seriously injure an unsuspecting customer.  Falling merchandise is not just something that happens at big box stores. This past week we successfully completed a trial against a well-known pharmacy where a case of champagne sized bottles fell on our client.

These incidents have common characteristics. First, the danger is most severe where shelving is above the heads of average customers. This includes shelving where a ladder is needed to reach merchandise. Second, the danger is acute when the merchant does not physically restrain the goods with a rail, security bars, or safety ties. Third, the danger is increased when the merchandise is placed on a shelf extender that is installed for special occasions, such as to stock Halloween or Christmas items. Fourth, the danger is high when the merchandise has been stacked in an unstable manner; such as in cut open boxes, or when heavier merchandise is placed on top of lighter merchandise, or merchandise that is too large and heavy for a shelf is placed on the undersized shelf anyway, in an effort to maximize display space in the store.

Even though merchants clearly know that precariously stacked merchandise poses a serious danger, typically customers are given no warning of the danger. In other words, the merchant posts no signs, banners, or placards to alert the customer of the danger. Nor do storekeepers cordon off shopping aisles when merchandise is being stocked or retrieved with a ladder; and do not use spotters when stocking the shelves or retrieving merchandise.

Could such dangers be avoided? Yes, but store personnel are generally not well trained in safe stocking techniques, or on how to recognize and eliminate the hazards of falling merchandise. Failure to train employees is inexcusable, since store operators are well aware of the dangers, and have to clean up merchandise that falls when customers are not present as well as when customers are hurt.

The most serious injuries occur to the head, neck, back, and upper torso. Merchandise weighing only a few pounds becomes exceedingly dangerous when it falls from a higher shelf. For example, a 3 to 5 pound object falling a few feet can exerts a force of over 100 pounds on the person struck by the object.

The law recognizes that stacking merchandise on high shelves creates an unreasonable and foreseeable risk to customers, and courts will hold store operators legally liable for negligent and reckless conduct. If you or someone you care about is injured when struck by goods falling from a store shelf, please call, we are ready to provide assistance.