Businesses that welcome the public onto their premises have a legal duty to keep them reasonably safe. If a store fails to keep a visitor out of harm’s way and that person is injured, then the store will likely be liable for those injuries.
In order to succeed, the plaintiff must prove that the following elements and conditions existed at the time of the injury.
- The store owed the plaintiff duty of care. This is relatively easy to prove. If you were on the store premises lawfully as a customer, then the store owes you a duty of care to keep you out of harm’s way within the reasonable bounds of the law. Conversely, if you were on the store premises after hours or for an illegal purpose such as a criminal trespass, it may be harder to prove that the store owed you a duty of care at such a high standard.
- The store breached its duty of care. This refers to whether the store failed to exercise the duty of care they owed to the customer. Some examples would be unsafe conditions within the store, improperly installed equipment, or unsafe walkways. Whether the store actually breached its duty of care to the customer depends on what the condition is, how the condition was created, how long the condition existed, and what steps the store took to remedy the problem. For example, if there was a puddle of water on the floor for several days and the store failed to clean it up and a customer slipped and fell and was injured, liability is likely. Conversely, if a customer spilled a drink in a shopping aisle and another customer slipped and fell on it a few minutes later while a staff person was on their way to clean it up, it is less likely that the store would be held liable for any injuries sustained by the injured customer.
- The plaintiff exercised reasonable care. The plaintiff is also required to exercise reasonable care to avoid injury. For example, if a customer sees a display in the middle of an aisle and walks right into it and is injured, it would not be reasonable for the plaintiff to expect to be compensated for bad judgment.
- The store’s negligence caused the injury. The plaintiff must show that their injury would not have happened but for the store’s negligence or failure to keep the customer reasonably safe. An example would be a store that fails to properly install a shelving unit. The unit collapses and falls on the plaintiff and injures the plaintiff while the plaintiff is in the store. In that situation, it is likely that the store would be liable for any injuries sustained by the plaintiff. Conversely, if the plaintiff is driving out of the parking lot after shopping at the store and is side swiped by another customer’s vehicle, it is not likely that the store would be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries unless a condition existed on the store premises that contributed to the accident.
- The plaintiff suffered actual damages. This requires that the plaintiff actually sustained an injury on the store premises. For example, if the plaintiff slips and falls on a spilled drink that was there for hours and breaks a leg, that could result in the store being liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Conversely, if the plaintiff slips and falls on that same spilled drink but was not injured at all or just has a few bruises, there would be no actual damages for the plaintiff to recover. Some examples of damages that the plaintiff recover are medical bills, lost wages or impaired earning capacity, pain and suffering and punitive damages.
Store injuries can occur in a variety of ways. These are some examples of inappropriate store conditions which could lead to a customer being injured.
- Improperly maintained premises. For example, if a store does not clean up an accumulation of snow and ice at the store entrance or exit, and a customer slips and falls, the store could be held liable for the injury.
- The failure to mark a dangerous condition. If a dangerous condition exists, such as a wet floor, the store can take steps to minimize the risk of injury. For example, the store could mark the area as wet to warn customers or close the aisle until the floor is dry.
- A display is haphazardly installed or items for sale are improperly stocked and the display or one of those items falls on a customer.
- Not providing reasonably safe access to the handicapped or the elderly.
- The failure to properly train or supervise employees. In some situations, an employee’s negligence such as throwing things within a store, can cause injury which could have been prevented with proper supervision.
- Inadequate security. This would include proper lighting at night in parking lots and at store entrances or agreeing to walk a customer to their car at night.
- Poor lighting and visibility which prevented the customer from seeing the dangerous condition.
- Neglecting to keep the store up to safety, building, and code rules and regulations.
- The failure to warn the customers of a dangerous condition. For example, if there was an electrical problem in part of the store, it would behoove a store owner to warn customers and post a sign.
- Inadequate procedures or the failure to properly supervise the premises to ensure that it is safe.
- The improper or unsafe operation of a forklift or other heavy machinery.