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Maybe an employee spilled something and didn’t get around to cleaning it up. Or there’s a frayed floor mat, debris, or poor lighting, that causes you to lose your footing while you shop. Litigation resulting from accidents caused by poorly-maintained walkways is so common it has a name – a “slip and fall” lawsuit. Usually such cases don’t merit much attention. But a slip and fall lawsuit in Pennsylvania is worth acknowledging because of what the plaintiff says tripped her up –

A booklet of coupons.

In a lawsuit that’s now before a federal judge, Kathleen Gallagher of Philadelphia says she went shopping at her local BJ’s Wholesale Club back in October 2020, but ended up getting a lot more than she bargained for. “While walking in the BJ’s parking lot,” her lawsuit states, she “suddenly, without warning, slipped and fell on a glossy BJ’s Wholesale Club coupon mailer that was lying on the ground.” She says she fell onto the asphalt and fractured her hand, resulting in multiple surgeries from which she has not fully recovered.

Was it an accident, or something more nefarious? Gallagher suggests it wasn’t mere happenstance.

BJ’s coupon booklets “are frequently mailed to all of their customers and also provided to invitees inside the store, when they arrive and when they exit,” the lawsuit explains. But BJ’s “does not provide bags for shoppers to carry their purchases in, thereby increasing their chances that its mailers would be discarded and/or dropped as invitees leave the store.”

Don’t see any coupons you want? Then just toss the booklet. Nowhere to throw it out? Well, just throw it on the ground, because apparently everyone else does.

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“Knowing that these coupon mailers would either be accidentally or purposefully discarded by invitees, left behind in carts and then blown away by the wind, or otherwise strewn about the parking lot, defendants had a duty to ensure that this paper litter was promptly removed,” the lawsuit goes on. Instead, BJ’s allowed the coupons “to remain on the ground for an unreasonable amount of time.”

And that’s what allegedly turned this booklet of savings into a moment of misery.

In responding to the lawsuit – and seeking to have it removed from a state court to federal court – BJ’s pointed out what it said were several flaws in Gallagher’s case. First, BJ’s said it doesn’t even own the parking lot in question and is therefore not responsible for keeping it clean. Second, Gallagher “did not report the accident when it happened. Rather, about two weeks later, she reported it to BJ’s manager,” BJ’s response reads. And the retailer has objected to Gallagher naming the store manager as a co-defendant, since he was not at the store when the accident occurred; he just happened to be the person to whom she reported the accident two weeks later.

Interestingly enough, BJ’s quit offering its printed coupon books for much of 2020, as a purported Covid precaution. It finally resumed printing them in August, just two months before Gallagher’s fateful encounter with one of them. But the retailer’s CEO doesn’t seem to be a fan, as he recently said “nobody loves paper coupons.

Is it any wonder that he doesn’t? Gallagher is now accusing BJ’s and her local store manager of negligence and carelessness, and is seeking “in excess of $150,000” for her troubles.

According to the National Floor Safety Institute (yes, there actually is such a thing), “falls are the number one cause of accidental injury,” and slip and fall incidents in particular account for more than a million visits to hospital emergency rooms a year.

But how many of those incidents involved coupons? Gallagher’s case seems particularly unique, though at least one personal injury lawyer warns that coupons can be more treacherous than they might appear. If asked why a slip-and-fall victim wasn’t watching where they were walking, the “counter argument may be that he or she was looking at advertisements, sales and coupons which are strategically placed throughout the store to attract the customer’s attention,” Miami attorney Justin Ziegler advises on his website. When preparing a slip-and-fall case, “take pictures that show the layout of the aisle(s) or area where you fell, including any coupons that may have distracted you while you were walking,” he goes on.

Who knew coupons could be so distractingly dangerous? So the next time you go shopping, keep your eye out for coupons – and watch where you walk. Otherwise, instead of saving shoppers some money, coupons could end up costing somebody a bundle.

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