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Do Business Owners Have a Duty to Keep Their Customers Safe?

THE BUSINESS OWNER’S DUTY TO INSPECT AND REPAIR BUILDINGS AND BUSINESS PREMISES.

People who own, manage, or control a business open to the public have a duty to their customers and other people who enter the business premises. Specifically, business owners (and those who manage or control commercial properties) have a legal obligation to exercise “ordinary care” in repair and maintenance of the business premises, in order to prevent customers (and others entering the space) from being unreasonably exposed to hazards or risks of injury.

The duty includes not only a duty to conduct or arrange for reasonable inspections, but also a duty to keep and maintain the premises in reasonably safe condition. Generally, this includes a duty to prevent unreasonably slippery surfaces and slipping hazards (for example, standing water or puddles on floors and walkways) and not to allow aisles, passageways, and other public areas to become excessively cluttered.

While the exact extent and limits of the duty can and do vary, based on facts and circumstances, business owners cannot “overlook” or turn a blind eye to conditions that create a risk of harm to people who enter their businesses. If you own or operate a business, consult an experienced attorney promptly if you have any questions about the extent of your particular legal duty–and if you have been injured while working at or patronizing someone else’s business, consult an attorney immediately for an evaluation of your legal rights.

BUSINESS OWNERS MAY HAVE A DUTY TO ASSIST CUSTOMERS IN DISTRESS.

If customers become sick, injured, or otherwise need medical assistance, business owners (and those in control of the business) may also have a duty to provide reasonable assistance. While “reasonable assistance” does not normally extend beyond simple steps – for example, calling an ambulance if necessary – the extent and nature of the duty may vary based on various factors, including the cause and circumstances of the customer’s distress, the business owner’s awareness of the situation, and other fact-specific situations. Once again, business owners should consult an attorney and have action plans and policies in place so employees, managers, and staff are prepared to deal with injuries or customer distress.

WHEN IS A BUSINESS OWNER LIABLE FOR INJURIES TO CUSTOMERS?

The law often requires a business owner to have knowledge of a hazard before imposing legal liability for damages or injuries to people visiting the premises. The knowledge can be actual–meaning the business owner or manager (or employees whose knowledge is imputed to the owner) actually knew about the hazardous condition–or constructive, meaning the owner or other responsible parties “should have known” about the hazard before the injury occurred.

There are exceptions to the knowledge requirement, however. If the owner, business manager, or his or her employees created the dangerous condition, an injured plaintiff often does not have to prove that the business owner had knowledge of the issue. This is because the legal theory of respondeat superior often renders the owner liable for the actions of his or her employees, managers, and staff.

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Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Negligence and premises liability claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against a property owner who permitted or failed to repair a dangerous condition, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.

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