Safety engineering expert witness discusses trip and fall at big-box retailer

    Safety engineering expert witnessA safety engineering expert witness provides feedback on a case involving a plaintiff who suffered a trip and fall at a major big-box retailer. The plaintiff, located in Oklahoma, a thirty-year-old male, was shopping for home appliances at a major big-box retailer. At the end of an aisle, a product display was set up. The product display was empty at the end-cap and the merchandise that was there was less than 3 feet tall and was located up against the wall portion of the display. Additionally, the display was as light-colored as the shiny floor. The plaintiff tripped over the display, fell and was severely injured.


    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • What are the industry standards for store displays? What should the defendant have done to reduce the hazards for patrons?

    Expert Witness Response

    Studies have shown that store patrons’ attention is drawn to store displays and other people, not to the ground. The National Safety Council’s Accident Prevention Manual for Business & Industry states that floor displays should be at least 3 feet tall so they are visible and are not a tripping hazard. A major insurer recommends restocking displays so they are never lower than 3 feet high. A Safety Engineering textbook on slips, trips and falls states that coloration of displays should contrast sharply with the surrounding floor area and displays in aisles and walkways should be at least 36” high. Further, low-level angular display bases present a serious tripping hazard to browsing shoppers, especially when they are exactly the same color as the surrounding floor. The National Safety Council states that for maximum safety, bases or platforms or other displays should be at least 12 inches high. Paint the top and sides a contrasting color to the general floor covering. Make sure the top edge has no overhang or lip so the side surface will be smooth. Do not use unusually shaped bases with unexpected extensions over which individuals can trip and if sales items are less than 12 inches in height, do not display them on the floor.

    The height, shape, coloration and placement of this display base greatly reduced the chance of a preoccupied shopper tripping over it. Additionally, the defendant failed to follow its own guidelines, policies and procedures. Having a color contrast and height of the display would reduce the chance of store patrons tripping over the display. The defendant retailer knew or should have known of the dangerous condition and should have eliminated it by restocking the merchandise at least 3 feet high and all the way to the end cap of the display platform. Another option would have been to place a tall object around the edges of the display platform. The defendant could have placed red or yellow tape/paint on the edges of the display platform, so it could have a contrasting color to the surroundings. The unsafe condition was created by leaving an empty display platform at the end-cap on the store floor, and not properly warning store patrons of it. The display could have been made safe at no cost or a minimal cost.

    This expert is a licensed civil engineer who has decades of practical experience conducting safety investigations. He is a member of the American Society of Testing and Materials, the American National Standards Institute, the National Safety Council, and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. He heads an engineering and safety company and has personally investigated hundreds of trip-and-fall accidents.

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