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Negri v. Stop and Shop, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Negri (Plaintiff) sued Stop and Shop, Inc. (Defendant) for negligence when she fell in the store aisle on broken jars of baby food. Plaintiff claimed Defendant had constructive notice of the dangerous condition and did not remedy it.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Circumstantial evidence that a defendant had constructive notice of a dangerous condition that allegedly injured its customers and did not remedy it can be enough to make out a prima facie case of negligence.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff fell in Defendant’s store and struck her head on the floor. Plaintiff sued, claiming that there were several jars of broken baby food on the floor of the aisle where she fell and that they were dirty and messy, indicating they’d been broken for some time. Evidence at trial showed that a witness had not heard the sound of any jars falling or breaking in the 15-20 minutes prior to Plaintiff’s fall and that the aisle had not been inspected for at least 50 minutes and possibly as long as two hours before the fall. Plaintiff claimed that Defendant had constructive notice of a dangerous condition that injured its customers and did nothing to remedy it. The trial court found for Plaintiff, the appellate division reversed, and Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue.

    Can circumstantial evidence that a defendant had constructive notice of a dangerous condition that allegedly injured its customers and did not remedy it be enough to make out a prima facie case of negligence?

    Held.

    (Memorandum) Yes. Circumstantial evidence that a defendant had constructive notice of a dangerous condition that allegedly injured its customers and did not remedy it can be enough to make out a prima facie case of negligence. Here, the record contains some evidence tending to show that Defendant had constructive notice of the dangerous condition. The circumstantial evidence was enough to allow the jury to draw the inference that the broken jars created a slippery condition and that the condition existed for a long enough time before Plaintiff’s accident to have allowed Defendant to discover and correct the condition. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and giving her the benefit of all reasonable inferences, Plaintiff has made out a prima facie case of negligence. The order of the Appellate Division is reversed.

    Discussion.

    Unlike the burden of proof required in criminal prosecutions, civil suits require a plaintiff to prove his case only by a preponderance of the evidence. Even where the allegedly negligent act would also be a crime, the plaintiff need only prove it by a preponderance. The plaintiff carries the burden of proof since he seeks relief.



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