Is A Store Liable For Customer Injuries?
Stores are not liable for customer injuries just because a customer is injured on store property. Stores do, however, have to take some responsibility for ensuring the safety of shoppers but they are only required to act reasonably. On the other hand, customers are also expected to act reasonably when it comes to paying attention to their own safety while on store property. When a customer gets injured, the circumstances will be scrutinized to determine whose actions were unreasonable and whether the store must compensate the customer.
The Legal Responsibility Store Owners Have to Customers
Commercial business establishments have a legal duty to provide a safe environment for customers who may visit their stores. In California, fulfilling this duty requires store owners to do the following:
- Inspect the property for hazards
- Repair known hazards
- Warn of known dangerous conditions that are not repaired
Whether a store owner or employee has adequately discharged the responsibility to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition is determined by an evaluation of how a customer became injured and the nature of the condition leading to the injury.
Conditions that Result in Customer Injuries in Stores
The most common injuries to customers in stores occur when customers slip or trip and fall due to some dangerous condition of a store’s floors or other surfaces where customers may be walking. The following conditions are known to increase the risk of customer falls:
- Spills or other materials making the floor surface slippery
- Snow and ice in parking lots and on walkways
- Uneven or damaged flooring
- Wires, cords, or hoses across walking paths
- Clutter in aisles from employees restocking shelves
Customers can also become injured by falling products that may be stacked on shelves improperly or placed higher than what is recommended for safety purposes.
How To Prove a Store is Liable for Customer Injuries
Before a jury decides whether a store is liable or not for a customer’s injuries, the judge will instruct them about the issues to be decided. The California jury instructions regarding unsafe conditions state that a store will be liable for a customer’s injuries if the following circumstances existed at the time the injury occurred:
- A condition on the store’s property created an unreasonable risk of harm
- A store representative knew of or, by reasonable inspection, should have discovered the condition
- The store failed to fix the condition, protect customers from the condition, or give adequate warning about the condition
A store cannot claim that there was no knowledge of a condition if the condition was created either by the owner or an employee acting within the scope of their employment. When the store created the condition, knowledge of it is presumed as a matter of law.
When A Store May Not Be Liable for Customer Injuries
The law seeks to make a reasonable accommodation between a store’s responsibility for the safety of its customers and the customers’ responsibility to act with ordinary care for their own well-being.
Stores that face injury lawsuits from customers may try to claim any of the following as defenses to avoid liability for the premises liability injuries claimed:
- The risk of harm was not unreasonable
- The risk of harm was ‘open and obvious’
- The customer’s own actions caused the accident
The Risk of Harm was Trivial or Known to a Customer
Under California law, property owners are not liable for injuries resulting from property defects that are ‘minor, trivial or insignificant.’ In Asatrian vs. Ralph’s Grocery, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision in favor of Ralph’s as a matter of law. Customer Asatrian had fallen and sustained injuries while exiting a Ralph’s Grocery, claiming their uneven and defective floor was responsible. Ralph’s showed there was only a 1/8th inch difference in the height of the flooring and such a slight difference made the risk of harm trivial.
The Risk of Harm Provides its Own Warning
In cases where the unsafe condition of the property is so obvious any reasonable person would be able to avoid encountering it, a property owner has no duty to warn people of its existence. However, if it is foreseeable that people might still encounter the hazard despite its obvious nature, a property owner may not be relieved of the responsibility to protect persons from being harmed by the condition.
The Customer Did Not Act Reasonably
Customers have the responsibility to stay alert to their surroundings and be aware of conditions on the property that may be reasonably detected and avoided. A customer who is walking down an aisle while texting and doesn’t notice an obvious spill before slipping and falling may have some responsibility for causing the claimed injuries.
California law apportions liability among all responsible parties and does not bar recovery for customers who have some responsibility for causing an accident. A customer who is partially at fault for causing an accident may still recover the portion of their damages that were caused by the store or other responsible parties.
Find Out If You Have a Premises Liability Claim Against a Store
If you were injured because of a dangerous condition on store property, you may be able to recover financial compensation. It will be extremely beneficial to know your legal rights before beginning negotiations with the store’s insurance company. Understanding how the law applies to your situation and having a strategy when making your claim can increase the chances of a successful result. This is best accomplished by working with a California slip and fall lawyers.