Shopping malls can be hazardous to your health


SLIP ON A banana peel, and that's supposed to be funny. Whether it's old-time slapstick comedy, a Donald Duck cartoon or "America's Funniest Home Videos," we all seem eager to guffaw at another's pratfall.

Slip on an orange peel, and that's grounds for a million-dollar lawsuit. Nothing funny about it. Especially if the victim ends up with serious injuries.

As you might know by now, a Baltimore woman is suing the Cranberry Mall and Baugher Enterprises produce stand there for negligence. Orange peel left on the mall floor caused her to fall and sustain permanent injuries, claims Bertha Hayden in the lawsuit. The incident occurred in December 1996.

Orange peel suit

The merits of the case remain to be hashed out by the lawyers and the courts. Whether the plaintiff's case is justified, whether the two defendant firms were responsible, the extent of and source of her disabilities -- these will be sorted out over time. But odds are that the case will be quietly settled, with little more heard from either side.

Still, it's a lesson in the hidden dangers that lurk in the malls.

The hallways of a mall always seem to be shiny, a reassurance of cleanliness. But these gleaming floors can be slippery for people wearing leather-soled shoes.

The yellow "Slippery when wet" sign is dutifully erected when custodians are cleaning up. But the swath of the wet mop usually covers most of the entrance to the shop you wish to patronize, leaving a suspicious trap to traverse.

The escalator is another potential pitfall. Step off a second before or a second after the moving step reaches the top (or bottom) and you're in an awkward position that can result in a tumble.

Did I mention the Panzer divisions of baby strollers, always two abreast and steered by mothers who constantly turn their heads to the side to continue their conversations? The infants serve as front bumpers for the driver, absorbing the initial impact with their legs, and alerting the parent to a quick, insincere "Sorry."

The parking lot is another gantlet to run. Rearview mirrors seem to be disabled automatically when a motorist parks at a shopping mall. The interminable intersections draw two kinds of mall drivers: those who step on the gas without looking and those who sit there checking to see if there's any car moving within two blocks.

The strollers seem to make it safely through the parking lot traffic chaos, however. Perhaps those chubby little legs (on the kid!) convert to motion sensors and alarms when they are outside the mall's walls.

Some mall shoppers claim that they experience shin splints after walking for hours on the tile floors. That's a bit hard to swallow, seeing that the biggest rush hour for many a shopping mall is the hour or so before it opens -- when hordes of dedicated walkers invade the corridors for their morning exercise.

Food-court threats

The eateries section of the mall is no place for the weak of heart, or the weak of stomach. The urge to take a break and consume mass quantities seems inevitable for the mall-goer. There is little Jenny Craig fare at these ambrosial tantalizers of taste buds: sugar, fat and deep-fried are the favored elements of much mall cookery. Warning! These potential health hazards are so numerous that they could only be listed in the small-print Federal Register.

There are the usual mishaps of the pizza slice sliding off a paper plate that is almost strong enough to be used as Kleenex, and the similar thin paper cups of scalding coffee and soup that one must set down every couple of steps to avoid blistered fingers.

Sometimes, the boiling liquid is spilled, by the server or by the consumer. And that can get the food stand in hot water, even when that is not the beverage in question.

Remember the hot coffee lawsuits against McDonald's claiming irreparable physical damage and trauma from java spills?

Fruit stores are another hidden mall danger, Ms. Hayden's legal action informs us. Carelessly discarded fruit can be hazardous to your health. A stray strawberry, a banished banana, an ostracized orange -- these are insidious tools of human peril. They may be healthy foods, but only if properly handled by a professional. Proceed at your own risk.

But the greatest danger of the mall is to the pocketbook.

Who can count the bruised and battered household budgets that fall victim to mall mania?

Who has not fallen to temptation in buying the intriguing gadgets, the irresistible objets d'art, the stylish fashions that are so alluringly placed in the unending rows of shops?

Then you find that the credit card is maxed out, so you write a check -- ignoring the fact that the checking account is overdrawn. At home, the treasured item seems less appealing, away from its natural habitat of skillful displays, expert lighting and a subliminal mass message that insists "buy, buy, buy."

Talk about mental anguish.

You have been warned. As the Romans warned, "caveat emptor mallei," let the mall buyer beware.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 10/03/99

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