Jeter v. Sam’s Club

The New Jersey Supreme Court held that the “mode of operation” rule does not apply to the sale of grapes in closed clamshell containers. Under the “mode of operation” rule, plaintiffs who bring premises liability claims against businesses that employ self-service models do not need to show that the business owner had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition to establish negligence. Plaintiff filed a negligence claim against Sam’s Club after sustaining injuries when she slipped on some grapes. One day before the trial, Sam’s Club filed a motion in limine to bar Plaintiff from requesting a mode of operation jury instruction. The trial court agreed with Sam’s Club that the mode of operation rule did not apply, then proceeded to analyze the case under traditional negligence principles that require actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition — grapes on the floor. The court dismissed the case with prejudice. The Appellate Division and Supreme Court affirmed. The Supreme Court ruled that the manner in which Sam’s Club sells grapes does not create a reasonably foreseeable risk that grapes will fall to the ground during ordinary customer handling. Moreover, the Court stressed that dispositive motions should not be made or decided on the eve of trial without giving the parties a reasonable opportunity to present their cases through testimony and argument.

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