Premises liability is what holds property owners responsible for accidents and injuries occurring on their property. This includes any accidents that may have occurred in and around their business, or in their home.
Premises liability law requires that all property owners ensure the safety of any person who enters their property. Property owners are to take all reasonable measures in order to accomplish this. As a legal concept, premises liability generally occurs alongside personal injury cases involving injuries caused by unsafe or defective conditions on someone else’s property.
Claims involving premises liability are commonly based on the legal concept of negligence. Negligence refers to a person failing to exercise reasonable care, with that failure resulting in the damage or injury of another person. The legal concept of negligence focuses on a person’s failure to take certain precautions and actions, as opposed to their direct actions.
In order to prove negligence and premises liability, the plaintiff must prove the following four elements:
- The property owner owed a duty of care to the visitor or person injured on their property;
- There was a dangerous, unsafe, or defective condition on the owner’s property;
- The owner knew of the condition but failed to remedy the situation; and
- That the injury occurred because of the owner’s failure to exercise their duty of care to prevent the accident and any resulting injury.
Generally speaking, a duty of care is owed to another person in any situation in which a person may foreseeably be injured due to another person’s actions, or inaction. Breaching this duty occurs when the property owner does not act as reasonably or as prudent as another reasonable person would under the same circumstances.
As such, it must be proven that the property owner’s negligence was the “actual and proximate” cause of the injuries being claimed. This is also referred to as causation. Once the other three elements have been proven, the plaintiff must then prove that there was some quantifiable loss or damage resulting from the property owner’s negligence.
Who Can Be Held Liable in Terms of Premises Liability?
A property owner is legally obligated to provide reasonable care and maintenance of the property in order to ensure that it is safe from dangerous conditions. However, the level of duty changes depending on how the person is entering the property, and why.
Generally speaking, a property owner owes the highest duty of care to invitees. Property owners then owe a lesser duty of care to licensees. Finally, property owners owe little to no duty of care to trespassers.
The tort liability scale is as follows:
- Invitees: Invitees refer to customers or patrons who have been invited onto the property by the owner. Because of this, the property owner has a duty to warn all invitees of risks that they are aware of. Property owners must also warn all invitees if the risk of harm is unreasonable. Additionally, the property owner has a duty to inspect the premises in order to make themselves aware of any risks;
- Licensees: Licensees are social guests that have entered or remained on the property for purposes other than business. The property owner is responsible for warning licensees of dangerous conditions that they are aware of; and
- Trespassers: Trespassers are people who have entered or remained on the premises without the permission of the property’s owner. State laws regarding trespassing vary. Generally speaking, a property owner does not have a duty to warn the trespasser of dangerous conditions. This is especially true if the property owner is unaware that the trespasser is on the property. Property owners do have a duty to warn known or tolerated trespassers of any dangerous conditions.
Some examples of conditions that must be present for in order for a known or tolerated trespasser to make a premises liability claim include:
- The dangerous condition exists because the property owner created or maintained it;
- The hazardous condition was likely to cause injury, death, or serious bodily harm; and
- The landowner failed to exercise due care in warning the trespassers of the condition and the risk present.
In short, property owners may be held legally liable. If a person was injured because of their own negligence, they would likely be held legally liable instead of the property owner.
What Kinds of Retail Displays Cause Injuries?
As property owners, all stores owe its customers a reasonable duty of care. These customers would be considered invitees, and as such are entitled to the highest level of duty. However, patrons experiencing accidents are not at all uncommon.
Out of all of the different types of injuries that a patron may sustain while in a store, some of the most common injuries involve retail displays. Most retail displays carry some potential for causing injury, including the following scenarios:
- Protruding Displays: These displays are most commonly found in retail stores, and include displays such as racks or other structures extending into the aisle. This may cause a problem for passersby, as display shelves or cases that protrude present a tripping hazard. Or, they may contain sharp edges that could cause injury to someone who walks by or brushes against it. These are some examples of what could be cause for a negligence lawsuit against the store owner. If the store does not take reasonable care to remedy protruding displays in order to prevent injury to others, they will likely be found liable for injury in any proceeding lawsuit;
- Displays That May Fall onto Customers: It is the store owner’s responsibility to correct any potential problems associated with displays that may fall onto customers, if it is reasonably foreseeable. Such displays may include display cases, racks, or other stacked items which may fall onto customers. This remains true even if other customers rearranged the items which led to someone’s injury; the store may still be held liable. A store may also be held liable if a customer pushes their shopping cart into a display, which causes the displayed items to fall on themselves or others; and
- Displays Resulting in Floor Debris: Some displays are especially associated with issues involving debris that has fallen onto the floor. An example of this would be displays housing produce and other self-service items in grocery stores. They must be carefully attended to and cleaned up, so as not to pose any unreasonable risk to customers. Additionally, store owners may be held liable for displays that would indicate a potential reoccurring debris hazard. Another example would be how providing samples and the ensuing trash may also cause a foreseeable hazard. Finally, any display holding ice and water, such as a soda cooler or watermelon tank, must be properly maintained so as not to create a slip and fall hazard.
If the property owner is found to be liable, or breached their duty of care to prevent an accident or injury from occurring on their property, the plaintiff may receive a damages award. Generally speaking, these damages include:
- Pain and suffering;
- Future and present medical bills;
- Lost income or loss of future earning capacity; and/or
- Punitive damages.
Additionally, the property owner may be ordered to repair or fix the dangerous condition that led to the injury.
Do I Need an Attorney for Issues Involving Injuries from Retail Displays?
If you have been injured because of an incident involving a retail display, you should consult with an experienced and local personal injury attorney. State laws vary in terms of personal injury, torts, and premises liability. As such, an experienced personal injury attorney will be best suited to understanding your state’s specific laws regarding the matter, and how those laws may affect your legal options.
An attorney will be able to help you gather evidence to support your claim, as well as file a lawsuit on your behalf against the store. Finally, an attorney can also represent you in court as needed, while helping you work towards obtaining a suitable damages award when available.