If a customer is hurt at my business, can they sue me? What if the accident has nothing to do with me, my business, or my employees?
People get injured at businesses frequently, for many different reasons. Sometimes the business is responsible for the injury, and sometimes it’s the customer’s fault.
Business owners aren’t always responsible for picking up every single thing that falls on the ground that a customer could trip on. Likewise, a business shouldn’t be responsible for a customer who trips on something that an ordinary person would expect and avoid.
On the other hand, if you own a business, you should do what you can to keep your property safe. You can’t spill a gallon of olive oil on your marble floors and leave it there for a couple of hours and hope that no one slips.
The law requires that people act reasonably, whether they are business owners or customers. The issue boils down to whether you as the owner of the business acted carefully, to the point that an accident is not likely to occur, and whether the customer acted with reasonable care to avoid having an accident.
To recover for an injury at your business, the customer must prove that you caused the danger, knew about it, or should have known about it. For example, if you or one of your employees spilled olive oil on the floor, or you knew that for whatever reason there was an oil slick on the marble, or if the oil spill was in a prominent place where there was no reason for you to not see it.
You should have a regular method for inspecting, cleaning and repairing your business. You could be liable for an injury caused by a longstanding hazard you knew about. This includes lighting — make sure your business is adequately lit and burned out light bulbs are replaced immediately.
Similarly, if you have objects on the ground that someone could trip on, is there a legitimate reason for them to be there? Could you move them somewhere safer, or could you put up some kind of partition around the objects?
If a customer has a few too many cocktails and falls off a barstool, you may think that has nothing to do with you and you shouldn’t be liable. But did your business serve the customer when they were obviously intoxicated?
Mary Luros practices business law with Hudson & Luros, LLP, and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 418-5118. This column is not intended as legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need disclaimers — or attorneys.