Shelves stacked to the rafters with merchandise is a common sight at big-box stores, retail stores, and some supermarkets. Stacking items, even heavy ones, is an acceptable and generally safe practice … when done correctly. Thousands of customers (and employees) are injured each year by falling merchandise; some have been killed. Here are a few examples of how things can go haywire:
- Poor stacking methods — e.g., stacking merchandise too high, placing a bigger item on top of a smaller one, or items that are too big for the shelf ominously hanging over the edge — place shoppers and employees in harm’s way. Forklift operators may hit shelving and knock boxes/crates loose, creating instability.
- Heavy and oddly shaped items should be secured to shelves (bars, fencing, rope, etc.); oftentimes this safe practice is neglected.
- Defective or poorly maintained racks and shelving may collapse and unleash items on unsuspecting shoppers below. Shelves that aren’t attached to a wall are more prone to hazardous incidents.
- Poor employee training and supervision.
- Employees moving in the aisles with product stacked so high they cannot see where they are going.
Falling objects can cause serious and long-term injuries, with the head or neck obviously being a frequent point of contact. Traumatic brain injuries, concussions, crush injuries, contusions, spinal cord injuries, fractures, lacerations, eye damage, and sometimes death may result.
A customer injured by falling merchandise may be able to file a premises liability claim. It must be proved that a hazardous condition existed; the owner knew or should have known of the condition; the owner failed to remedy the situation; and the victim’s injury was caused by the hazardous condition.