Slip-and-Fall Accidents and the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act
This page on Chapter 93A in slip-and-falls is part of a series on slip-and-fall accidents by the slip-and-fall lawyers at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C.
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93A, also known as the Consumer Protection Act, is perhaps the most powerful consumer protection law on the books in any of the fifty states. Here in Massachusetts, lawyers most often refer to the law simply as “Chapter 93A.”
The plaintiff in a Chapter 93A case may be entitled to recover not only actual damages but also “treble damages” (triple damages), attorney’s fees and costs. That’s a scary prospect for most defendants in a Chapter 93A case and for insurance companies.
But what relevance does the Consumer Protection Act have to slip-and-falls you might ask? Well, Chapter 93A sweeps very broadly. It prohibits “unfair or deceptive” practices in trade or commerce.
And courts have held that Chapter 93A sometimes applies to slip-and-falls. Again, because of the “trade or commerce” requirement, Chapter 93A does not apply to all slip-and-falls. A slip-and-fall at a private birthday party in a backyard, absent unusual circumstances, will not satisfy the trade or commerce requirement of Chapter 93A.
But a slip-and-fall on the premises of a commercial establishment, such as a supermarket, bar or nightclub likely will meet the “trade or commerce” requirement.
At that point, the only questions essentially are whether the circumstances involved in the slip-and-fall were unfair or deceptive and whether the unfairness and/or deceptiveness were causes of the injuries.
What do “unfair or deceptive” business practices look like in the context of a slip-and-fall? The case of Klairmont v. Gainsboro Restaurant, Inc. provides a clear example. 465 Mass. 165 (2013). In Klairmont, a college student died after falling down the basement stairway at a bar. The student was drunk and had been looking for a quiet space to take a cell phone call when he walked through a doorway covered with hanging vinyl strips and fell down the basement stairs. As it turned out, the bar knew that, “customers frequented the area by the alcove by the staircase each night,” in order to obtain a bit of quiet. Id. at 173. The bar also knew that its staircase violated the Building Code. (For more on Building Code violations, see our page on building code slip-and-falls).
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed that the bar’s business practices were deceptive inasmuch as the bar knew of these dangers and did not advise patrons of them. As the Supreme Judicial Court wrote, the bar’s conduct, “also may qualify as deceptive because if Jacob or other patrons had known of the highly dangerous conditions present at Our House East – conditions in clear violation of the building code -they very well may have taken their business elsewhere or in any event, Jacob may have decided not to take his telephone call in the alcove.” Id. at 175.
Under Chapter 93A, the standard is “unfair or deceptive.” You do not need to prove that conduct was unfair “and” deceptive; deceptiveness alone or unfairness alone is enough. In Klairmont, the Supreme Judicial Court also found that the bar’s conduct was “unfair.” In its analysis of why the bar’s conduct was “unfair,” the Supreme Judicial Court seemed to emphasize the seriousness of the danger posed by the stairway and the fact that the bar served alcohol to people in such close proximity to the danger.
One thing has long been clear under Chapter 93A, however: a plaintiff must prove more than mere negligence to win a Chapter 93A claim. That is to say, the injury victim must show more than simple carelessness. There must be deception involved or that ineffable unfairness for a claim to succeed.
Each successful Chapter 93A slip-and-fall case is likely to be unique. A successful Chapter 93A slip-and-fall case is likely to turn on very specific facts, as in the Klairmont case, about a business’ operations. But it is important to remember that this powerful consumer protection law also can extend to slip-and-falls on a business’ property.
If you have been injured on the property of a business, some other form of negligence on the part of the property owner, you should not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation. We will be able to advise you of your legal rights and what sort of remedies the law might entitle you to.
The Boston slip-and-fall lawyers at THE LAW OFFICE OF ALAN H. CREDE, P.C., hope you found this guide to slip-and-falls and Chapter 93A useful. However, you should not rely upon it as a legal opinion. The law changes quite often and the outcomes of many cases turn upon seemingly minor factual differences. If you fell and were injured in an accident, please contact a personal injury lawyer immediately.