South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Massachusetts Adopts Mode of Operation Approach for Premises Liability

Massachusetts high court held that the state would now use the mode of operation approach to determine liability in slip and fall cases. Rather than focus on knowledge by the store operator of a hazard, the focus is on the foreseeability of likely hazards given the circumstances.

Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words

Premises Liability; Slip and Fall; Mode of Operation Approach

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Sheehan slipped and fell on a grape in a grocery store. He suffered serious injuries and sued for negligence. The trial court held for defendant, ruling that plaintiff could not show that the store had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition that caused the accident. Sheehan appealed; the appeal was taken by the Massachusetts high court.


Vacated and remanded. Under the traditional approach, the plaintiff must prove a store caused a substance to be on the floor, the store operator had knowledge of its presence, or the item had been on the floor so long that the operator should have been aware of the condition. Massachusetts now abandons that rule and adopts an approach that some other states have adopted. The mode of operation approach focuses on the reasonable foreseeability of patrons’ carelessness under the circumstances. In this approach, when a chosen mode of operation makes it reasonably foreseeable that a dangerous condition will occur, an owner could be held liable for injuries if the owner failed to take all reasonable precautions to protect invitees from these conditions. The focus is not on knowledge by the store operator but on the mode of operation of the store and the steps its operator had taken to protect patrons from hazards it knows are likely to occur. The case will be returned to the trial court for reconsideration under the new standard.


Sheehan v. Roche Brothers Supermarkets, ---N.E.2d--- (2007 WL 1098207, Sup. Ct., Mass., 2007)

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