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The Law Offices of Frank J. Dito, Jr.

Beware of Falling Merchandise at Stores

Frank J. Dito, Jr.
Car accident, personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney serving Staten Island and Brooklyn New York.

During the past decade, thousands of people have been injured, some even killed, by falling merchandise while shopping in retail stores. From doors, hot water heaters and televisions to pet supplies, housewares goods and toys, merchandise is falling off high shelves and causing injuries to customers at an alarming rate.

Big retail companies include: Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Kmart, Toys'R'Us, Petsmart, Costco, Sam's Club, BJ's and Staples. These stores operated on the fact that it was more efficient, less expensive, and more profitable to put as much merchandise as possible on the sales floor, rather that in off-site warehouses or backroom storage areas. 

Falling merchandise incidents have the following common characteristics:

High stacking - is characterized by safety experts as the storage of merchandise on the sales floor above eye level. Merchandise is often stacked on shelves 15 feet above the sales floor. 

Unsecured merchandise - merchants do not use physical-restraining safety devices such as security bars, fencing, safety ties and shelf extenders on high shelves.

Triggering events - falling merchandise can be triggered by moving merchandise that has been stacked in an unstable manner; moving merchandise on one shelf in such a way that the adjacent shelf fails; stacking different size boxes on top of each other; stacking heavy merchandise on top of lighter merchandise. Vibrations in and out of a store, merchandise left hanging over the edge of a shelf and merchandise too large for a shelf.

No warning of danger - merchandise falls without any warning. 

Customer not negligent - the customer is not the cause of the merchandise falling and is generally not charged with a duty to watch for falling merchandise or expect merchandise to fall.

Improper training - store personnel are improperly trained or not trained at all in stocking techniques or in recognizing and correcting the hazards of falling merchandise. 

Nature of injuries - significant percentage of injuries occur to the head, neck, back and upper torso.

Law of Falling Merchandise:

The law recognizes that merchants have a duty to consumers to keep care of their premises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of unsafe or hazardous conditions of which the merchant knows or should know through inspection. It is well established that a merchants duty to their customers is to keep their businesses, aisles, passages and other public places in a safe condition and to keep regularly care to prevent injuries to customers.

Courts recognizes that merchants must place merchandise on shelves safely so it will not fall. The merchant must take steps to help prevent merchandise from falling including checking the shelves periodically to ensure that merchandise is in a safe position and using devices to stabilize it.The law recognizes that stacking merchandise on high shelves creates an unwarranted risk and is reasonable foreseeable that doing this contributes to the risk of merchandise falling. 

Requirement for Stocking Shelves:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issues shelving standards to reduce workplace injuries. These standards cover the placement of shelves, the proper method of stacking items and how to safely remove objects on shelves.

The OSHA standards encourage companies to install shelves at medium height to prevent employees from reaching too high or too low. Material should be stacked on a shelf in straight, even lines that that will not fall as customers or employees remove items. Place the heaviest items on the bottom shelf to prevent the shelves from tipping over. Stack light items on the highest shelves to reduce the risk of injury when reaching up to remove them. Keeping heavy items near the bottom reduces the damage caused if items are knocked off the top shelves.