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Accident that killed woman in store ruled unforeseeable

Property owners in West Virginia and around the country owe a duty of care to visitors, but that does not mean that they can be held legally responsible for every accident that occurs on the premises they own or occupy. Premises liability lawsuits, just like other negligence claims, often hinge on questions of foreseeability as building owners or tenants argue that they should not be held accountable for accidents that no amount of maintenance or planning could have prevented.

Such arguments were made successfully by attorneys representing a retail store in Tennessee where a woman lost her life when she fell into a glass display case after fainting. The woman was killed by a glass shard from the cabinet that pierced her chest. The wrongful death lawsuit filed by the woman's husband was dismissed on the grounds that the accident was not foreseeable, and a Tennessee appeals court affirmed the dismissal on April 25.

Attorneys representing the store made their arguments based on the fact the display case had been purchased in the early 1980s and had withstood rigors such as being struck by baby carriages. The plaintiff had claimed that the display case was fragile and an accident waiting to happen. Arguments that the cluttered layout of the store also contributed to the accident were similarly dismissed.

Personal injury attorneys may consider questions of foreseeability carefully when weighing the merits of a premises liability lawsuit. While property owners may not be liable for damages in all accident situations, they could be held legally responsible when injuries are caused by lax maintenance or a known unsafe condition. Property owners or managers may also bear financial responsibility when they fail to take reasonable measures to protect visitors such as cleaning up spills in a timely manner or placing warning signs next to hazards.

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