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When Pants Tailoring Leads to a Broken Ankle: Does Shopper Have a Personal Injury Case?

Here’s a type of personal injury lawsuit we don’t see every day. Can a shopper who trips and falls while her pants are being tailored sue the store for personal injuries?

Unhemmed Pants Leg

In Dorfmeister v. Nordstrom, a shopper purchased an outfit at a Nordstrom department store and was having the pants hemmed while wearing a pair of shoes with 5-inch heels. The shopper stood on a 7-inch-high platform while the Nordstrom seamstress pinned her right pants leg. The seamstress then asked if the length was appropriate, and the shopper responded that she could not see whether the length was correct because she was too close to the mirror. The seamstress told her to step back.

With her right pants leg pinned and her left pants leg unpinned, the shopper turned so that her back was facing the mirror and stepped down off the platform. She did not ask for help stepping down, even though she had asked for help on previous occasions when having tailoring done. Nor did the sales associate or the seamstress assist the shopper or warn her to be careful.

As the shopper stepped down, her left heel became tangled in the fabric of her unpinned pants leg, and she fell and fractured her ankle.

The shopper filed a lawsuit against Nordstrom asserting that its employees were negligent in failing to warn her of the tripping hazard posed by her unpinned pants leg and failing to assist her down from the platform. Nordstrom sought to dismiss the case, contending it had no duty to warn of or guard against an obvious danger.

Pennsylvania Law

In Pennsylvania, a business owner owes a duty to protect its invitees from potential harm. However, this duty is not absolute. The business owner is liable for harm caused by a dangerous condition only if it:

knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitee, and (b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and (c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.

Where the danger is known or obvious to the invitee, the business owner is not liable for physical harm caused by a dangerous activity or condition.

Here, Nordstrom argued that a reasonable person would have appreciated the risk of stepping off a 7-inch platform in 5-inch heels with one unpinned pants leg, and that the shopper failed to exercise reasonable care.

The shopper argued that she was acting at the direction of the Nordstrom employees and that a reasonable person in her position would not have realized the danger.

Decision

In refusing to dismiss the case, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found that it is for a jury to determine whether the shopper knew the risk of stepping down from the platform at that time or whether a risk of harm would be obvious to a reasonable person in her position.

The court further found that it is up to the jury to determine whether Nordstrom’s employees should have foreseen the unpinned pants leg as a tripping hazard.

Conclusion

The shopper can proceed with her lawsuit and will get her day in court. As always, if you are injured in an accident ― regardless of how unusual the circumstances ― we recommend that you consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your legal rights are protected.