The issue primarily before the court here is whether the “mode of operation” approach to premises liability might extend to that of a sit-down restaurant. Generally speaking a business owes its customers a duty to keep its premises in a reasonably safe condition. Where an employee or agent of the business causes a foreign substance to be on the floor and a patron is injured liability will typically be found. Additionally, where the owner, employee, or agent did not cause the substance to lie but in any event had actual or constructive notice of the substance and injury resulted then liability will also lie. The “mode of operation” approach expands these limitations on liability.
The “mode of operation” approach essentially extends premises liability in contexts where the owner of an establishment has replaced the roll of employees with that of the customer, self-service, or perhaps by way of technology. In this context the customer essentially becomes the employee for purposes of liability. So that if the negligence of a customer creates a hazardous or dangers condition liability will extend to the owner in the same way in which it would if an employee had created the condition. This for example self-help grocery stores wherein employees now complete their own checkouts in lieu of employees.
Here, the Supreme Court declined to extend the “mode of operation” approach to that of the sit-down restaurant. Finding that absent a showing that business owners created an increased risk of potentially hazardous conditions by having customers perform activities typically carried out by employees that the court would thus not extend mode of operation liability to such context.