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What is the "mode of operation rule" in Connecticut?

A month or so ago on this blog we discussed the various types of status a person may have when he or she has been injured on the property of another. This status can affect the duty a premises owner has to the individual with regard to risks on the property. This week, we'll take a brief look at one aspect of premises liability in cases involving invitees to a property. You may recall that an "invitee" is a person who is present on a property for the benefit of the owner or for their mutual benefit. This covers nearly all commercial transactions that occur in brick-and-mortar businesses. The aspect we will look at is called the "mode of operation rule."

At one time, the law in Connecticut required invitees to prove that their injuries were caused by a hazard that the property owner had notice of. That is, that the property owner knew that the specific hazard existed and took no steps to rectify it. This notice could be constructive; that is, the owner would be presumed to know of the hazard if one of his or her employees knew of it. This meant that plaintiffs had the burden of proof of showing someone knew about the specific danger that caused his or her injury.

In a 2007 case, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court articulated the "mode of operation rule," which modified the way invitee plaintiffs could recover. In fact, this rule is now found in model jury instructions for Connecticut civil cases. Under this rule, the plaintiff need not show that the owner had notice of the hazard if he or she can instead show that the injuries suffered were proximately caused by an item or defect that was the result of a mode of operation of the business that created a foreseeable risk to customers or other invitees, and the owner did not take reasonable care to prevent such foreseeable accidents from occurring.

Business practices that involve potential risks to customers can be readily imagined. For example, a restaurant could have a salad bar set up in such a way that customers might routinely drop a piece of food, creating a hazard on which another customer could slip and fall.

The facts of each case are unique, so people who believe they may be owed compensation from a negligent property owner under the theory of premises liability may wish to consult with an experienced Connecticut attorney.

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