This case involves a nine-year-old girl who was shopping with her two younger sisters and her parents in a department store. The children’s section of the store had a slatted wall with 10-inch hooks protruding from the wall where merchandise was hung. About a foot away from the display wall was a four-sided clothing display rack (called a “rounder”) for holding clothes. The girl moved between the rack and wall to try on a bathing suit top. After she tried on the bathing suit top, the girl bent down to pick up her shirt. When she bent down, the girl’s eyelid was pierced by an empty wall hook. The girl screamed and her mother detached the hook from the wall and the girl’s father pulled the hook away from her eye. The girl was taken to a local children’s hospital. As the result of her injury, the girl developed permanent Ptosis (drooping) of her left eye. The girl later underwent two surgeries for the Ptosis, including a surgery meant to restructure her eyelid. Because of her injury, the girl could not close her left eye completely and this caused her to have dryness of the eye and tearing.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- If a department store has hooks protruding from a wall to hang merchandise, is this an unreasonable hazard to customers?
Expert Witness Response
In this case, the 10-inch hooks probably projected from the wall at a child’s eye level. Since these hooks were probably obscured by clothing, they could act as “spears” which could pierce a child’s eyes or eyelids. In general, store owners owe a duty to customers to provide a safe environment for shopping. This duty means that a department store owner has a duty to discover and eliminate dangerous conditions, to maintain the store in a safe condition, and to avoid creating conditions that make the store unsafe for customers. Usually, a customer must establish that a store owner knew about a dangerous condition to get damages for an injury that they suffered on the premises. If the dangerous condition occurs as the result of the nature of the business, the store owner must usually show that they took reasonable steps to avoid the hazard. In this case, the layout of having the clothing rack only a foot from a wall with protruding hooks was dangerous since customers had to pass between this tight space and browse to look at the clothing hanging from both the rack and the wall. This dangerous layout was magnified even more since the hooks were placed at a child’s eye level in the children’s clothing section of the store. Since clothing hanging from above could obscure a hook from a customer’s view, the store had a duty to protect customers from the danger. The store in this case should have used straight wall hooks with curved “safety” hooks so that there was less danger of a child being poked in the eye by one of the hooks.