A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Mode of Operation Rule Found Not Applicable to Fall at KFC

By on March 10, 2014 in Blog with 0 Comments

Janice Prioleau fell at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on a substance she believed to be a mix of grease and water on its floor. In Prioleau v. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Inc., 2014 N.J. Super. LEXIS 29 (App.Div. Mar. 3, 2014), the Appellate Division decided that it was error for the trial court to charge the jury with the mode of operation rule and, accordingly, reversed and remanded the matter for a new trial.

The plaintiff and her children stopped in the Cherry Hill KFC restaurant for dinner. The weather had been a torrential storm. Their clothes and sneakers were wet and they tracked water into the restaurant. As plaintiff headed towards the restaurant, she slipped and fell. After she returned home, she was in pain. She claimed injury to her neck and back and sued KFC.

The plaintiff had persuaded the judge to charge the jury with the mode of operation rule, whereby it is unnecessary for a plaintiff to prove notice of the alleged hazardous condition. The defendant claimed that the trial judge mistakenly directed the jury that notice was unnecessary if defendant’s mode of operation created the hazardous condition.

The law recognizes certain instances where the nature of self-service business operations may result in dangerous conditions to invitees. When the mode of operation rule applies, an injured plaintiff is relieved of proving actual or constructive notice where it is probable that the dangerous condition is likely to occur as a result of the nature of the business, the property’s condition, or a demonstrable pattern of conduct or incidents.

The Appellate Division in Prioleau stated that the mode of operation liability does not apply merely because a defendant operates a certain type of business. Rather, the rule is applied when the negligence results from the business’s method of operation, which is designed to allow patrons to directly handle merchandise or products without intervention from business employees, and entails an expectation of customer carelessness.

Here, the court found the trial judge misapplied the mode of operation rule because it should not be invoked merely because defendant operated a fast food restaurant. Plaintiff must establish a causal nexus between the fast food or other business operation and the harm causing her injuries. Here, no such link was established between the manner in which KFC conducted its business and the alleged hazard plaintiff slipped on or its source. Plaintiff was unable to identify the defendant’s business practice that created an implicit or inherent danger likely to cause the resultant injury she sustained.

This case is a win for narrowing the mode of operation rule in premises liability cases. Unfortunately, there was a dissent, which gives the plaintiff an automatic right of appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Thus, this case may continue on in the appeals process.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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