Business owners and operators owe a legal duty to customers to keep their business premises reasonably safe.
When you run to the grocery store or the hardware store for an item you need or stop at a restaurant for a meal, you do not think about there being a risk of injury. That is because most businesses open to the public are maintained in a reasonably safe manner as the law requires and we are accustomed to that standard.
When a business owner or operator breaches their duty to a customer – called an invitee – to exercise ordinary care to keep the commercial premises in a reasonable safe condition and the unsafe condition resulting from the breach causes injury to the patron, the business would be liable under a legal doctrine called premises liability, a form of negligence.
Specifically, using a store as an example, the owner or operator has the duty to remove an object that fell on the floor or clean up a spilled liquid so that customers do not slip or trip and potentially fall – or to sufficiently warn customers of the risk of harm. The owner must correct the dangerous condition within a reasonable time if the owner knows about it or should have known under the circumstances. The duty of reasonable care may also encompass the duty to warn customers of an unsafe condition that the owner knew about.
To be liable, the owner must have known of the defect or danger or have had constructive knowledge, meaning that the unsafe condition had been there long enough that with ordinary care the owner should have noticed it.
Here are some common conditions that may result in business premises liability for causing injury to invitees:
- Items in a store could fall and injure a customer when they were stacked on a shelf in a careless and unsafe manner.
- A patron could slip on a patch of liquid or wet produce and fall.
- An invitee could trip on an unexpected object or uneven flooring and fall.
- A customer could fall on ice or snow on the walkway to the store or in its parking lot that should have been removed or treated.
- An uneven stair or loose stair tread could cause a trip and fall.
- Insufficient lighting outside can cause falls or create an unsafe environment in an area with a high crime rate.
A business owner may have a defense to a premises liability claim if the injured customer ignored a danger or if the condition was readily apparent to visitors.
In a premises liability lawsuit, the victim could potentially receive money damages for lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills and more. A lawyer can provide advice about potential legal remedies in any given case.
The attorneys at Cranwell & Moore P.L.C. in Vinton, Virginia, represent people in the Roanoke region in premises liability claims for injuries received in falls and accidents in stores, restaurants and other businesses open to the public.