A Store's Liability for Slip and Fall Accidents

A store that welcomes customers onto it's property has a duty to keep them reasonably safe. An "unreasonable" condition that contributes to a fall can lead to an injury claim against the store.

If you slip, fall, or are otherwise injured in a store, you may have a valid legal claim against that business. Here's why: Businesses that welcome the public onto their premises have a legal duty to keep them "reasonably" safe.

Whether it's a "big box" nationwide chain like Walmart or Target, a grocery chain like Kroger, Albertsons or Safeway, or a local independent retailer, any business that invites the public onto its premises is obligated to take certain steps to keep customers out of harm's way. Customers who are injured in slip and fall accidents on store premises may have a valid legal claim against the business, but the case may not always be a smooth one. This article looks at slip and fall claims against common types of retailers, and key issues to consider.

Duty to Maintain Safe Premises

Like all businesses that open themselves up to the public, stores are legally obligated to maintain reasonably safe premises for the protection of their customers. When a slip and fall accident happens at a department store, grocery store, or even a local "mom and pop", the business may be liable for injuries if it can be shown that the slip and fall occurred due to unsafe conditions on the property. The store's responsibility for compensating a customer who slipped and fell often depends on the specific facts of the particular accident, but there are a few common conditions that lead to slip and fall accidents in stores.

Common In-Store Slip and Fall Accidents

Injuries from slip and falls at a store can happen for a variety of reasons. A customer might fall on an accumulation of snow or ice in the entry way of the store or could trip over an errant floor mat. Items on display might be haphazardly placed and can fall in the pathway of a customer. The store might have poor lighting leading to poor visibility, or a prior customer's spilled latte could have left a puddle in an aisle. The possibilities are endless, but regardless of the cause of the slip and fall accident, the legal responsibility of the store will depend on whether it had, or should have reasonably had, notice of the unsafe condition and failed to take prompt action to fix the problem.

Holding the Store Liable

A store can be legally responsible for unsafe conditions under a few different theories. The store owner may be liable if it created the unsafe condition, by using an exceptionally slippery wax to clean its floors, for example.

The owner may also be liable if it knew of the condition, even if it did not create it, but failed to take steps to remedy it. For instance, if one customer spills a drink in an aisle, and another customer injures her back after slipping on the puddle and falling on the floor, the store may be liable for the injury. In that circumstance, the injured person will have to show some evidence that the store knew or should have reasonably known of the condition. There must be some evidence that the spill sat there long enough for the store to have become aware of its presence and have a reasonable opportunity to clean it up and prevent an accident. The injured party may also demonstrate that the store knew (or should have known) that spilled products were common, but failed to have a system in place for monitoring and cleaning up such spills.

In addition, the injured customer will likely have to show that the condition was not so open and obvious that the customer should have taken steps to avoid the unsafe condition. For instance, a customer can generally not recover for injuries sustained from tripping over a large display when the display was clearly visible in the customer's pathway, and the use of such displays is commonplace in similar stores. In other words, a customer is required to exercise reasonable caution to protect him or herself, and can't hold the store accountable for every last thing that goes wrong. The key question to ask is whether a reasonably careful customer would have noticed the unsafe condition and avoided it. If so, then the store may not be held liable for the injury.

Evidence Showing Proof Of Liability is Key

In the real world, if a customer slips and falls in a store – or any business that regularly welcomes customers in -- and can show valid and documented injuries from the incident, he or she can likely expect to receive some amount of injury compensation for losses stemming from the accident (unless the incident appears to have been staged or was blatantly avoidable). The fault issue -- whether the store should have remedied a potentially unsafe condition or whether the customer should have noticed and avoided the condition -- will be the focal point of settlement negotiations, and will be a key determinant in the size of the settlement award.

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