It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and a shopper is in position for the time honored tradition in our country…standing in an optimal spot outside of a neighborhood store to be first through the door to commence Black Friday shopping. When the doors finally open, the person races through the door like they are storming a castle. Unfortunately, in the rush to get into the store, they accidentally get tripped up by another eager shopper and fall to the ground. While on the ground, other shoppers stomp over the person in a mad dash to get to the bargains. The stampede leaves them hospitalized for weeks due to massive internal injuries. What I have just described is one of the worst nightmares of a business owner on Black Friday, someone getting hurt on their premises.
In many states, business property owners have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure their premises are safe for customers. The law typically defines “reasonable” as what a person of ordinary intelligence and judgment would do under similar scenarios. There are simple steps to take in order to minimize your business’ liability in the event an injury happens; properly inspecting the premises for hazards, correcting or cleaning the hazard, or posting a warning so customers can be aware.
No one should expect a business or property owner to know of a potential hazard every second of operating hours; that’s an unrealistic expectation. Having some best practices established for an inspection of your premises falls under the category of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Create a regular checklist of the things and areas of your premises that are under your business’ control. As your business changes, the checklist might have to be amended as well to ensure you are covering all of your bases. Once you create that checklist, it’s vital to figure out how often throughout the day to inspect the premises in order to catch those potential hazards that need to be addressed.
While it is easier said than done sometimes, the next step should be figuring out how to fix or clean up the potential hazard. Keeping a good stock of household cleaning supplies is always a good idea for those messes that can cause slip-and-fall accidents. If you are in a business where stocked merchandise can cause serious harm to a customer, it may be time to rethink how and where your business stocks its merchandise. Unfortunately, there are some hazards that simple household supplies or restocking cannot remedy. Structural hazards and health problems like mold require time and financial resources to address. While you are working to address those problems, all you can do is give your customers a heads up as to what’s going on.
Giving your customers sufficient warning of a hazard on your premises can minimize liability to your business. When you think of a sufficient warning, the best practice would be to figure out what will grab a customer’s attention. If you are addressing a hazard on your premises that requires significant labor, putting a sign up stating “open during construction” and partitioning off the area of the store that needs work should be effective ways of getting your point across. If it’s a simple mess that could cause a slip and fall accident that can’t get cleaned up right way, a warning that stands out will be needed. Putting brightly colored hazard markers, like cones or a yellow “wet floor” sign, should get the message across that there is something on the floor to steer clear of or to be careful of as they navigate through your facility.
Running a business has enough hazards to be mindful, let alone the ones that can actually hurt people. While it’s impossible to eliminate all risks of physical harm from occurring on your business premises, these steps should send a clear message that you are doing what any reasonable business owner is expected to do.
However, if you have been hurt at on a business property and you suspect that the property owners may have been negligent in their duties, please contact The Law Offices of Michael Cordova to see if there is anything that can be done for you.