Jeter v. Sam’s Club, A-716-19, 2021 WL 1961122 (App. Div. May 17, 2021)

Case provides strong defense for supermarket owners and operators against slip-and-fall claims.

When the plaintiff slipped and fell on a grape in the aisle of a Sam’s Club store in Linden, New Jersey, she brought suit for personal injuries and sought to invoke the infamous mode-of-operation doctrine, which excuses a plaintiff from establishing that a defendant had actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition based on the self-service nature of a defendant’s business.

The trial court determined that the mode-of-operation doctrine was inapplicable because this Sam’s Club store sold its grapes in a “clamshell” container that was taped closed. At trial, a representative of Sam’s Club testified that the packaging was specifically targeted towards safety. Accordingly, the court concluded that Sam’s Club was deliberately not selling grapes in a loose form in order to prevent slip and fall hazards, and the plaintiff failed to present evidence as to how long the particular grape was on the floor before her accident. Thus, the trial court found that the plaintiff did not establish notice and, as the mode-of-operation doctrine did not apply, dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice.

The Appellate Division affirmed, finding that the plaintiff did not establish a nexus between the dangerous condition, i.e. the fallen grape, and the defendant’s method of selling grapes. To that end, the defendant’s specific packaging of the grapes, which was geared toward safety, mitigated the risk of a dangerous condition that was typically heightened as a result of the defendant’s self-service business.

This case is a great one to share with supermarket owners, operators or even those that are supermarket contractors as it can be used as a template in how to mount a strong defense against a potential slip-and-fall case involving grocery items.


Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter, July 2021 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Copyright © 2021 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, all rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm.