Grocery stores and other large retailers generally have plans, policies and procedures designed to keep their customers safe. Unfortunately, far too often store employees either do not know or do not follow corporate safety policies. This is why thousands and thousands of people are injured in grocery stores here in New Jersey every year.

Many people feel an intense loyalty to “their” grocery store and spend large portions of the family budget on groceries. Stores like ShopRite expect to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from each of their customers over the course of a lifetime. Is it too much to ask for customers to actually be kept safe while they shop? Sadly, for many grocery stores and other large retailers, the answer is yes. In my experience, corporate profit is frequently more important than customer safety.

Grocery store owners know there are “problem areas” in every grocery store. These include the produce department, floral department, frozen food aisles, checkout areas, entrances and exits, to name a few. These are high traffic areas where there is often water or slippery produce on the floor.

Grocery store owners and operators have a legal obligation to exercise reasonable care for the safety of their customers. Store owners must take steps to correct or give warning of dangerous conditions (like water on the ground), so long as the owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition. Furthermore, the grocery store owner must make inspections of the store to try to find dangerous conditions. Store employees are typically required to conduct “floor sweeps” to check for dangerous conditions, like spills or tripping hazards. This is where most grocery stores fail their customers because employees do not perform regular “floor sweeps” or follow any inspection schedule. This means that dangerous conditions frequently go unnoticed, and that is why thousands of people are injured in grocery stores each year. Of course, this is not the only area where grocery stores fail to keep their customers safe from harm. Other causes of customer injuries will be explored in some of my upcoming posts.

But for now, you should know what to do if you are injured in a grocery store or other retail store. Many people have told me that they were embarrassed after an incident in a store, so they quickly leave without telling anyone. This is a mistake. If you fail to report an incident to store management, they will likely dispute that it ever happened. If you are injured in an incident at a grocery store, here are some steps to follow to make sure the incident is properly documented:

  • First, it is extremely important that the incident is documented. Most stores have reporting policies requiring that they take photographs of the cause of the incident and take a statement from the injured customer. Unfortunately, many stores ignore those policies. This may be because it is harder to prove a claim against a store if there is no direct evidence of the incident.
  • You should report the incident at the customer service desk. Be sure a manager is sent to investigate the incident. It is not enough for the store to call maintenance over the PA system.
  • You must insist that the store manager investigate the incident and take photos of the scene.
  • If the manager refuses to take photos or says he or she does not have a camera, you should take photos yourself, possibly on your cell phone if it has a camera.
  • Take note of the cause of your injury. For example, if you slip on dish detergent, look to see if anyone else walked though the spill before you did. Are there any detergent footprints leading away from the spill? How about streaks from a shopping cart wheel passing through the spill? If the answer is yes, then the owner should have known about the spill and cleaned it up before you ever got there.
  • It is important that you identify what caused your incident. If you slipped on water and fell to the ground, take note of whether your clothes were wet. If you slip on a grape jelly spill, look at the shelves nearby. Is grape jelly sold in that aisle?
  • If you have an audio recording function on your cell phone, it may be worthwhile to record your conversation with store personnel.
  • If you are injured or in pain, you must tell the manager, and make sure he or she writes it in the report.
  • You should also request a copy of the incident report for your records, although the manager probably will not give you a copy.
  • If necessary, ask that the police and paramedics be called. If the store somehow loses the incident report, the police will have a record that they were dispatched to the store.

If you were injured at a grocery store and did not report it, you should go back to the store immediately, walk up to the customer service desk and ask to speak to a manager. If enough time has passed, the dangerous condition may be gone. So, for example, if you slipped and fell on spilled dish detergent, it is unlikely that the spill will still be there the next day. Nevertheless, you should still ask for a manager and show him or her where the incident occurred. You should ask that the manager look at store surveillance footage for proof of the incident. Ask if you can watch the footage yourself. The manager will probably say no, but it is worth asking.

After reading this post, you should not be under the impression that grocery stores are out to hurt you. They are not. But, for the most part, they are large corporations and sometimes their customer safety procedures fall through the cracks exposing customers to unnecessary danger. If you are injured at a grocery store, it is important that you know and take steps to protect your rights.