The term laundromat refers to a facility in which customers can wash and dry their laundry. The laundromat essentially runs on a rental basis, as customers pay a fee to utilize the washing machines and dryers offered by the facility. Such facilities are generally owned by individuals, or operate on a franchise basis.
Laundromat regulations will likely vary based on locality. Some cities and states regulate their laundromats in order to ensure that such businesses are being kept clean, and are well-lit and ventilated. This is in an effort to reduce potential injury and liability while on the laundromat premises. Some cities and states have an additional requirement of a present operator. Once again, this is required in an effort to reduce injury and liability. Whether or not a specific laundromat is in compliance with local rules and regulations will be an important factor should any legal issues arise.
Laundromat rules are often established to create a sense of order and maintain the peace in public facilities. Facility owners can reduce some of their liability with reasonable and appropriate rules. Some examples of laundromat rules that owners are likely to post and enforce include:
- Do not leave your items unattended, such as in the washing machine or dryer;
- Be discretionary when reserving multiple machines;
- Do not overload machines, as this can lead to maintenance issues;
- Be judicious with laundry soap use, as again, overuse can lead to maintenance issues;
- Double-check machines before leaving the premises, so no laundry is left behind to be dealt with by other customers or management;
- Clean out the dryer lint trap to reduce maintenance issues and improve dryer performance;
- Clean up after yourself to maintain the appearance and cleanliness of the facilities; and
- Return carts after use to avoid creating unnecessary hazards, especially for other customers with limited mobility.
These examples are just that; examples, that may vary greatly by location as well as individual facility. The shared goal is to inform patrons of their rights and risks, while minimizing laundromat owner liability as well as the risk of injury.
What Are Common Laundromat Problems and Injuries?
Some of the most common laundromat problems and injuries include:
- Slip and fall accidents resulting from wet floors, or other dangerous conditions on the laundromat premises;
- Electrical shock or electrocution from loose washing machine or dryer wires;
- Hands and/or finger injuries or loss from getting stuck in defective equipment;
- Fires resulting from multiple machines being plugged into one outlet, overheating dryers, trapped lint, flammable cleaning chemicals, etc;
- Burns from equipment found in laundromat facilities, such as dryers, irons, steamers, etc; and
- Various injuries resulting from chemical use, such as bleach.
How Do Laundromat Lawsuits Work?
The laundromat’s owner or operator will likely be held liable for any injuries a person sustains due to the owner’s negligence. Negligence, as a legal theory, refers to a person being careless given the circumstances with that carelessness resulting in the harm or death of another person. It is a type of personal injury, and has its own set of elements that must be proven if the injured party wishes to take legal action against the negligent party.
One such element is that one party owed the other a duty of care. What this means is that the defendant had the duty to be mindful of the plaintiff’s safety. In terms of laundromats, the owner or operator owes a duty to maintain their premises and keep the laundromat reasonably safe.
Owners of operators also owe a duty to warn people of any known dangers. An example of this would be placing signage warning patrons of wet floors. Or, if the owner or operator fails to inspect and maintain a washing machine that has a history of problems, they could be liable for any injuries that machine causes.
Remedies that may be available in such a claim would most likely consist of a damages award, meant to reimburse the victim for their injuries and/or losses. They are calculated according to the victim’s losses, as opposed to the liable party’s gain. A compensatory damages award may also consist of punitive damages, which typically include a requirement that the liable party change their policies or make necessary repairs in order to avoid future incidents.
Other less common remedies may include restitutionary damages, which are meant to restore the plaintiff to a position of wholeness; or, equitable remedies, which are awarded when monetary damages are not adequate to restore the victim to wholeness.
What Can I Do If I’ve Been Affected By a Laundromat Liability Incident?
As previously mentioned, if you wish to take legal action against a laundromat and pursue any sort of damages award, you will need to prove some specific elements. These are:
- Duty: The laundromat’s owner or operator owed you a duty of care;
- Breach of Duty: The laundromat’s owner or operator breached their duty in some way, such as failing to warn of known dangers or failing to maintain their equipment;
- Causation: It must be proven that the laundromat’s owner or operator actually caused the victim’s injuries or harm, and nothing else; and
- Damages: Actual injuries or damages must be shown, and they must be quantifiable in some way.
You will also need to verify if your state maintains any statute of limitations on personal injury. A statute of limitations is the timeframe in which a person may file a lawsuit against another person. If the statute of limitations has run out, a person forfeits their right to take legal action. Should your state maintain such a statute, you will need to consult with an attorney and begin all relevant legal proceedings before this timeframe has closed.
Some other things to consider when discussing laundromat liability are:
- Damage to Property: By being open, the owner or operator is implying that their equipment is in good working condition. If the machines do not work correctly, or are inappropriate for their represented purpose, the owner has a duty to inform patrons of the patron. Otherwise, they are responsible for making all necessary repairs or replacements. Should the owner or operator fail to do so, they could be liable for any damage done to a patron’s property as a result of the inappropriate or poorly maintained equipment; and
- Limits on Liability: The owner or operator’s negligence must be the sole reason for the injury or damage. Thus, no other unforeseen event may be attributed. The owner or operator is only responsible for unreasonable risk. What this means is that if the patron contributed to their injury in any way, such as intentionally misusing equipment or refusing to adhere to the rules set forth by the facility, it is unlikely that the patron will experience a full recovery as this is known as contributory negligence, and assumption of risk. Finally, the owner or operator is not responsible for fixing or remedying every possible dangerous condition, as they may not even be aware of some dangerous conditions on the premises. If the condition is so obvious that any reasonable person would know to avoid it, it is unlikely that the owner or operator will be held liable for negligence. The same is true if the defect did not exist long enough for the owner or operator to be aware of the condition.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Laundromat Lawsuit?
If you have been injured while utilizing a laundromat, or your personal property has been damaged, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer.
An experienced local personal injury attorney will be aware of any local regulations and statutes that could affect your case, and will advise you regarding how best to proceed. Additionally, an experienced attorney can also represent you in court as needed, as well as help you obtain a suitable damages award.