Premises Liability Expanded by SJC Decision

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court expanded the mode of operations approach for premises liability cases through its decision in Bowers v. P. Wile’s Inc., 475 Mass. 34 (2016). The mode of operation approach is now expanded beyond claims involving spillage and breakage cases, and the impact of this decision should be clearly understood by:

  • Insurers
  • Claims adjusters
  • Risk managers
  • Self-insured administrators
  • Property Owners

The SJC recently reversed an award of summary judgment for a garden store sued by a customer who claimed she slipped and fell on a walkway to the store as a result of a stone that had somehow migrated from a nearby gravel area. The court’s opinion extends the mode of operation rule to accidents that are not caused by customer interference with a product, thus widening potential liability risk exposures for property owners.

The court determined that, “Where the manner of operation of a business creates a reasonably foreseeable risk of a hazardous condition, the approach permits a plaintiff to recover for injuries resulting from such conditions if the plaintiff establishes that the business did not take all adequate steps reasonably necessary under the circumstances to protect patrons against that risk.”

Avery Dooley & Noone has carefully analyzed this decision, and our Insurance Defense and litigation practice offers extensive experience in premises liability issues and claims. Our firm regularly represents insurers and businesses in premises liability cases involving serious personal injury and property damage, and we suggest that businesses operating in Massachusetts reconsider their risks in light of this decision.

If you have questions on how this recent decision impacts your business or the claims you are handling, please contact us.