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Does a Business Owe a Duty of Care to Customers?


When a business is open to the public, the owners of the business owe a duty of reasonable, ordinary care to the people who enter the business premises. The business owner must take reasonable steps to prevent customers being exposed to hazards or risks of harm. This includes keeping public parts of the premises (including floors, aisles, and walkways) in reasonably safe condition.

Generally speaking, business owners must have either actual knowledge of a hazard or constructive knowledge of its existence (meaning the owner either “knew” or “should have known”) before the business will be held liable for injuries resulting from hazards on the premises. For example, if a customer slips and falls, the question will be whether the business “knew or should have known” about whatever hazard was responsible for the customer’s fall, and resulting injuries.

An important side note about knowledge: if the business’s employees created the hazard that caused the injury, the injured plaintiff does not have to prove the business owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. The business is liable under a separate legal doctrine–respondeat superior— which makes a business owner legally liable for the acts employees take while on the job and “within the course and scope” of their employment.

Business owners also have a duty to act reasonably to help a customer who has an accident, becomes ill, or requires medical help. This duty does not generally extend to buying and maintaining specialized medical equipment (such as epi-pens, defibrillators, and other medical devices) on the premises. However, it may include taking personal action and/or calling for emergency help, if doing so would be a reasonable action under the relevant circumstances. If you own a business, you may wish to consult an attorney to obtain advice about the duty you and your employees may have in the event a customer is injured or becomes ill while on your premises.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW 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. Most legal claims (and defenses) are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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