Personal Injury Lawsuits Over Falling Items at Stores | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

After helping a client who suffered a serious shoulder injury when a store shelf collapsed on her, we began paying close attention to such incidents. A case that originally seemed like a rare, though highly preventable, accident turned out to be just one instance in a dangerous trend toward more-frequent personal injuries and wrongful deaths at big box retailers like Lowes, Home Depot and Sam’s Club.


Warehouse stores, by definition, place nearly all their merchandise in the aisles where customers shop. Individual items are placed within people’s reach, while crates, cartons and pallets of unpacked merchandise go overhead. When a shelving unit is unstable or bulk merchandise is stacked incorrectly, crush injuries, broken bones and traumatic brain injuries shift from risks to near certainties.

Now, to be fair, correctly stacking even heavy merchandise on secure shelving is an acceptable and generally safe practice. But a lot can go wrong.

Store personnel can position crates improperly. A forklift driver or pallet jack operator can hit a shelf and knock boxes loose. Stacks can grow unstable over time. Managers can order forklift operators to go one row higher than safety allows. The crews that assemble shelving units may work sloppily. Errors can occur during the manufacturing of the shelf components.

Recommendations for making big box stores and warehouse outlets safer for customers include using four bolts to anchor each shelf leg to the floor, making shelf columns twice as thick and banding or shrink-wrapping stacked merchandise so it does not shift.

When customers do suffer preventable injuries in stores, they have rights to seek payment for medical bills and other types of monetary compensation. This area of personal injury law is called premises liability because store owners are liable for accidents on their premises, which includes the retail space, entrance and parking lot. A more common name for such cases is “slip and fall,” because the classic example is losing one’s footing on a wet floor.

Store owners confronted with premises liability claims often try to blame the victims for acting unsafely. Fighting back against such, usually unfounded, accusations of contributory negligence can take months or years, but winning is possible.