Slip-and-fall accidents in stores often lead to injury and large medical bills in addition to pain and suffering. However, from national chains like Target and Walmart to small independent retailers, businesses that invite the public in are required to take necessary steps to protect their clientele from dangers that could cause injury--and these stores face legal liability if they fail to do so. If you have been hurt in a slip-and-fall accident while shopping, you probably have questions about the extent of the store's responsibility to compensate you for your injuries.
What responsibility do store owners have regarding the maintenance of safe premises?
In general, any business that opens its doors to the public has a duty to its customers to keep its store premises reasonably safe and free of potential hazards that might lead to a slip-and-fall accident. This responsibility to maintain safe premises is required of store owners of all kinds and sizes, from multi-billion dollar national department store chains to small mom-and-pop businesses operating a single store.
Under what circumstances will courts find that a store owner failed in their duty to maintain safe premises?
Whether or not a store owner is legally responsible to a customer who experienced a slip-and-fall accident will depend on the specific facts surrounding the customer's accident. Because store owners are required to keep their premises reasonably safe, the court will have to decide what is reasonable in each particular case.
However, some general principles can provide guidance to slip-and-fall victims attempting to determine whether or not the store is liable to them. For example, store owners must avoid creating unsafe conditions themselves, and they might be found legally liable for actions such as using an abnormally slippery wax on their store's floors that causes a customer to slip and fall.
Store owners can also be found liable for a slip-and-fall accidents caused by hazardous conditions they did not create but knew about and did not fix. An example of this would be if one customer spilled a drink and another customer slipped on the spill, causing a back injury. In order to win damages from the store owner in court, the second customer would need to demonstrate that the store either knew or reasonably should have know about the spill and failed to take proper steps to remove the hazard. What exactly does this mean?
In this example, the burden would be on the slip-and-fall victim to show that the store had enough time to both notice the hazard and remedy it. The injured customer may also be required to demonstrate in court that the hazard wasn't so obvious that he or she should have been able to protect against it themselves. For example, if a store regularly uses large cardboard displays that are prominent and obvious, a customer who trips over such a display would likely lose in court.
What are some examples of court cases over customers' slip-and-fall injuries?
A number of cases across the nation support a customer's right to be protected from hazards that could lead to a slip and fall. One of the largest jury awards came in November 2011. Walmart was held accountable for a customer's slip and fall that led to her becoming permanently disabled and losing her job; the jury awarded damages of $15 million.
On the other hand, juries do sometimes find in favor of the store owner. For example, a 2004 case in Illinois involved a customer's injury at a Walgreens. While the customer claimed that the liquid he slipped on was left there by employees, the store claimed that the customer had tracked in snow. The jury found for the store because the customer couldn't conclusively prove that the store was responsible for the haza