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Silva v. The Stop & Shop Store – Injury Alone Won’t Suffice in Lawsuit

The fact of injury is never enough to establish a finding of negligence necessary to make litigation a worthwhile pursuit.
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In order to establish negligence, one has to prove:

  • A duty owed
  • A breach of duty
  • Proximate cause
  • Compensable injuries

It sounds simple, but without any one of these key elements, a civil injury lawsuit will inevitably fail.

Our Boston injury lawyers are experienced in negligence theory of law, and will only advise litigation where we believe prudent.

Recently, the Massachusetts Appeals Court weighed an appeal from a woman who claimed negligence that resulted in a serious back injury while she was working. Most work injury claims are paid through workers’ compensation insurance, a system that bars lawsuits against employers per the exclusive remedy provision. However, claims against third parties are allowed where negligence can be established.

In Silva v. The Stop & Shop Store, plaintiff was working for a third-party vendor at a grocery store. Her job required her to remove and replace shelves and restock them with various products. She was also expected to lift and carry up to 35 pounds.

One morning, she arrived to the store around 7 a.m. Unfortunately, the freight elevator wasn’t working that day, so she had to use the stairs to carry stores from the storage area, located on the second floor, down to the store, on the first floor.

She made approximately five trips up and down the stairs. While making her last descent, she felt her back pop, and was paralyzed by intense pain. She concedes she never slipped, tripped or lost her balance while on the stairs.

In her subsequent lawsuit against the store, she asserted the store had a duty to provide elevator service for two reasons: First, it had a duty to provide a safe working environment, including any necessary safety equipment, and secondly, she asserted state regulations created a duty to provide a working elevator service.

However, trial court found – and appellate court agreed – a freight elevator cannot be considered a necessary piece of safety equipment. But even if plaintiff were able to establish a working elevator was part of the establishment of a safe working environment, the court found there was no demonstration by the facts that an absence of it caused her injuries. Therefore, liability was not established on those grounds.

Secondly, the court found no evidence of a state law requiring workers be given access to elevators.

Finally, although she asserted the store had a policy of barring the use of stairs to carry large, awkward items – a policy it reportedly violated in directing her to use the stairs in this case – the court found this alone would not establish a duty where one did not exist before.

Therefore, appellate court affirmed summary judgment for defense.

Had the circumstances been slightly different, plaintiff’s claim might have succeeded. For example, if plaintiff had tripped or slipped as a result of some dangerous condition on the stairs, negligence might well have been proved. Alternatively, if we were talking about a workers’ compensation claim against her employer, the mere fact the injury arose out of and in the course of her employment would be grounds enough to ensure compensation.

But here again, we find injury alone does not amount to a strong liability claim. It’s imperative that injured persons consult with an experienced personal injury law firm before deciding how best to proceed.

If you are injured in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
Silva v. The Stop & Shop Store, Feb. 6, 2014, Commonweath of Massachusetts Appeals Court
More Blog Entries:
Hyundai Motor Co. v. Duncan: Expert Testimony in Personal Injury Cases, Jan. 22, 2015, Boston Personal Injury Lawyer Blog