Toddler Dies After Being Struck by Falling Mirror at Payless
It is a well-established principle of personal injury law that a customer visiting a business has the right to expect that he or she may visit that business’s location without being subjected to a risk of injury by merely being on that business’s property. A recent case from Georgia will serve to illustrate this principle.
According to local media sources, 2-year-old Ifrah Siddique died in the early evening hours of March 2nd at a local hospital shortly after she was struck by a falling full-length mirror at a Payless ShoeSource store in the Atlanta suburb of Riverdale. Although details of the accident are unclear at this time, it appears that Ifrah was struck by the mirror while she was trying on shoes with her mother and neither Ifrah or her mother had been in physical contact with the mirror immediately prior to the accident.
Liability in this and similar cases arises from the legal doctrines known as premises liability, respondeat superior (“let the master answer”), and res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”). In past cases the Georgia courts have taken the position that these doctrines should be applied literally, or “as they are written.” These issues will, in general, will apply in other jurisdictions and not just in the Georgia courts.
- Premises Liability
Premises liability is based on the doctrine that the owner, landlord, or the person having lawful possession of a business or private residence is responsible for maintaining such a structure in a condition that minimizes the risk of accidental injury to a customer or a visitor. Should an injury occur, it is responsibility of the property owner to show that 1) the cause of the injury could not have been prevented by the owner and/or 2) that the factors responsible for an injury were beyond the control of the property owner. This is best explained by way of a hypothetical example.
In the case of the accident mentioned above, if the mirror had not been property anchored to a wall of some other structure then the property owner would be liable for any injuries sustained when the mirror fell. If, however, the mirror was dislodged during an earthquake or because of a nearly explosion, the property owner is not liable because the external factors that led to the mirror’s fall were clearly beyond the business operator’s control.
- Respondeat Superior
In simplest terms, respondeat superior is the doctrine that an employer is ultimately responsible for the actions of an employee if those actions lead to an injury to another party. In recent years this doctrine has been expanded to include franchise business operations, subcontractors, and even day laborers.
In most cases, the only defense to a respondeat superior claim is that the superior was unaware of the actions and/or circumstances that led to an injury and those circumstances were completely beyond the superior’s control. Since Payless operates its retail outlets as “company” stores rather than as franchises awarded to different business entities, it would seem that the company will have considerable difficulty avoiding a respondeat superior liability claim.
Res Ipsa Loquitur
- Res Ipsa Loquitur
Res ipsa loquitur is the doctrine that the circumstances of an injury are such that the physical cause of the injury is sufficient proof that negligence has occurred. This doctrine has existed since at least the middle of the 19th century and has been adopted into the common law of every country that has embraced some form of English civil law.
In the case being considered here, since mirrors are not known to fall onto customers on anything approaching a regular basis a visitor to a Payless store would have no reason to expect such an accident to occur. Thus, a negligence claim based on res ipsa loquitur will probably be accepted by a court if a civil lawsuit is eventually filed by the family of Ifrah Siddique.
Personal injury and accident lawyers specialize in business liability cases
The legal issues to be considered before filing a personal injury lawsuit are far more complex than in the simple situations discussed above. Due to this complexity, if you or a family member have been injured in a retail shopping accident, you should arrange a consultation with an accident and personal injury lawyer to discuss the legal options that may be available in your case. Since practically all such lawyers offer free initial consultations to potential clients that they will represent of a contingency fee basis, financial concerns should not hinder you from seeking legal advice in these matters.