In the typical premises liability / slip and fall case, an injured plaintiff must prove the negligence of the premises owner. This means that the plaintiff must prove the premises owner knew or should have known about a dangerous condition on the property, but failed to identify the condition upon reasonable inspection, and as a result the plaintiff sustained an injury.
Under certain circumstances, however, the legal doctrine known as the “mode of operation," frees the plaintiff of the burden of proof and creates a rebuttable presumption of negligence against the premises owner. The mode of operation doctrine generally applies to self-service businesses, where the defendant's mode of business operation, by its nature, creates a dangerous condition.
The mode of operation often applies in slip and fall cases arising at supermarkets and grocery stores, where floors regularly become slippery from spilled food and liquids that are handled by the patrons. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find various foreign materials on the floor in the produce section of a grocery store, where patrons are allowed to pick up and handle various food products.
When the mode of operation doctrine applies, it is presumed that the defendant property owner had notice of the dangerous condition that caused the plaintiff's injuries. The property owner may, of course, attempt to avoid liability by showing that it did everything that a reasonable person would do to avoid the accident in light of the risk posed by the business operations. Regardless of whether the mode of operation doctrine applies, the plaintiff must still prove causation and resulting damages caused by the accident.
The mode of operation doctrine is a powerful weapon available to plaintiffs in NJ personal injury cases. If you have been injured on a commercial premises where a self-service business is located, you may be entitled to bring a claim and rely upon the mode of operation doctrine.