Janice Prioleau entered a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on December 26, 2009. Once inside, Prioleau slipped and fell due to a floor that was covered in grease and rain water. When her children tried to pick her up, the slippery conditions caused them to become unstable as well. Prioleau denied medical attention that day but was later diagnosed with lower back injuries related to her fall and has been participating in ongoing physical therapy. She subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the fried chicken chain, and a jury awarded her over $135,000 in damages.
Unfortunately for Prioleau, her story does not end there. In most legal cases, the losing party has the right to appeal the decision to a higher court. KFC chose to exercise this right and appealed the jury verdict, claiming that there were several errors during the initial trial that should invalidate the jury’s decision. The case was then heard by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
In a decision issued by the NJ appellate court, Prioleau’s initial verdict was thrown out due to a supposed error by the jury. The appellate court agreed with KFC’s claims that the jury should not have applied the mode-of-operation doctrine, which eliminates the need for a customer to prove that a business had notice of an unsafe condition when filing a personal injury lawsuit. Instead, the court stated that this doctrine should only apply to businesses that encourage customer self-service and does not apply to a restaurant such as KFC. Therefore, Prioleau did not sufficiently meet the legal burden necessary to win her case.
Judge Richard Hoffman dissented from the appellate court’s majority opinion, stating that he does not believe that the mode-of-operation doctrine should be limited to self-service businesses. He also noted that KFC likely did not handle the situation properly, as there was no injury report or incident log created following Prioleau’s fall. Prioleau now intends to appeal the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which will likely clarify the confusion regarding the applicability of New Jersey’s mode-of-operation doctrine in premises liability personal injury cases.