Stores used to be attractive and pleasant places to go where boxes of merchandise couldn’t fall on unsuspecting customers. Times have changed! Anyone who’s ever been in a big-box store in the past 20 years or so is aware that most of these stores are stocked full of merchandise in open view, almost from the floor to ceiling. Retail warehouse businesses that fall into the big-box category include Lowe’s, Home Depot, Kmart, Toys ‘R’ Us, PetSmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, and Staples. Retail warehouse business, which exploded during the 1990s, shows no signs of slowing down.
These stores operate on the premise that it is more efficient and more profitable to warehouse as much merchandise as possible right in the store itself, rather than in off-site warehouses. Merchandise in stores like this is not stored horizontally, but vertically and that invites trouble and the potential for serious injury in the form of falling merchandise. Over the past 10 years, it is estimated that tens of thousands of people have been injured, some even killed, by store merchandise and inventory that has fallen onto unsuspecting shoppers in big-box stores. Hot water heaters, doors, TVs, pet supplies, toys, you name it – can fall off high shelves and cause injuries to customers at a rate that most people would be surprised by. These events are usually quite serious, commonly involving injuries to the head, back injuries, and broken bones.
Falling merchandise injuries are often caused by the following negligent store practices:
High Stacking of Products. Merchandise is frequently stacked on shelves that can reach up to 15 feet above the sales floor. Stacking merchandise this high creates unstable conditions with boxes and merchandise. It’s not uncommon that customers much stretch, use a ladder, or climb on shelves in order to retrieve merchandise. This is a prescription for disaster.
Inadequate Danger Warnings. Merchants are well-aware of the risks involved in stacking merchandise this way and frequently fail to warn their customers of these risks with warning signs; sometimes they don’t bother to cordon off shopping aisles when merchandise is being stocked or removed and oftentimes they don’t use spotters when product stocking is taking place.
Unsecured Merchandise. Merchants often don’t employ physical-restraining safety devices such as security bars, fencing, safety ties, and shelf extenders on a store’s high shelves.
Inadequate Employee Training and Supervision. Many times, merchandise falls off shelving because items and boxes of different sizes are negligently stacked on top of each other, due to store employees being inadequately trained in safe product stocking techniques.
Surrounding Events. Falling merchandise can frequently tip over or become unstable when someone moves merchandise on a shelf in the adjoining aisle or in an immediately adjoining area that has been stacked in an unstable manner. The act of moving merchandise on one shelf can cause merchandise to fall from an adjacent shelf. At other times, simple vibrations can dislodge an item and cause it to plummet downward.
Many store managers know about the risk of falling merchandise but don’t take appropriate action to reduce this injury risk or to provide a safe environment for their customers. The reasons for this failure to act are usually a combination of increased cost and decreased attention.
Who is liable for injuries from falling merchandise?
A commercial business can’t just throw open its doors to customers, without taking certain measures to assure the safety of those customers. The law imposes a legal duty on a store or any business establishment to take steps to assure that the premises are safe for its customers and visitors. This duty is imposed under a body of law known as California premises liability. Store owners are legally obligated to make sure that their properties are reasonably safe from hazards. Premises hazards can be any conditions that create an unreasonable risk of injury to customers or visitors. The owner or operator of the property is required to inspect the premises on a regular basis for dangers and risks posed to the general public, and it is required to correct those risks.

Therefore, store owners and operators have a legal obligation to take every reasonable measure possible to prevent falling merchandise from injuring visitors. Some, but not all, of these measures include the following:
• Shelves need to be deep enough and wide enough to support the merchandise being stored;
• Merchandise should never be stacked in such a way that it increases the chances of it falling;
• Anchoring devices should be employed to stabilize and secure heavy merchandise that is often prone to tipping and falling;
• Shelves need to be checked periodically to discover whether merchandise has been stored in a safe position by employees.
When a store fails to meet the legal duty owed to its customers and invitees, the store can be held liable for any injuries that result from the breach of that duty. This translates into paying for all costs that the injured person has incurred as a result of the injury. These costs include medical and hospital bills, lost wages, physical rehabilitation and pain and suffering, as well as other damages.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a store like this or an event that is described here we urge you to call the Law office of Guenard & Bozarth right away. We have the experienced lawyers you deserve who will consult with you for no cost and work to determine what to do next. Please call our office 24/7/365 at 888-809-1076 or visit our website at We Can Help!