Morrison Mahoney Boston partner Joe Yannetti recently obtained summary judgment on a negligence claim in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiff asserted claims against our client, the owner of a sports arena, for negligence after he slipped and fell on spilled beer on the arena’s concourse. The plaintiff conceded after discovery that under a traditional negligence theory there was no evidence that our client was aware or should have been aware of the spill; however, he argued that our client’s mode of operation in selling beer in cups without lids and then allowing patrons to move freely about the concourse put the client on notice that spills were likely to occur during events.

We directed the court to Sarkasian v. Concept Restaurants, Inc., 471 Mass 679 (2015), in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court indicated, albeit in dicta, that “a plaintiff does not get to the jury simply by showing that an establishment sells drinks to patrons who are then allowed to travel about the premises.” In his decision, Chief Judge Dennis F. Saylor, IV noted that the court was required to follow state law “(or where necessary) attempt to predict how the state courts would likely rule.” Accordingly, the court adopted our argument and determined that “there is no better guide than a statement by the highest court of the state as to how it would rule in a particular set of circumstances.”

In his 14-page decision, Judge Saylor declined to expand the “mode of operation” approach to premises liability claims in which a sports venue served beverages without lids to patrons who were then allowed to move freely about the premises.

The decision was reported on by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.