Stores and places-of-business have a responsibility to maintain a safe environment for their customers. However, it isn't always cut-and-dry whether or not a business is at-fault for a given accident. Below is more information to help you understand when a business may be negligent if someone is injured on their premises:
Assigning blame for a slip and fall accident
Slip and fall accidents within a store or place-of-business are commonplace, but assigning blame from a legal standpoint isn't always easy to determine. In general, courts have found that business owners have a defense from liability when one or more of the following apply:
No lack of due diligence – if a court finds that a business owner did all they could reasonably do to protect someone from slipping and falling, then they will have shown due diligence and have a defense to liability.
The injured person is responsible for their accident – when a court determines that the injured person acted in a manner that is irresponsible, the blame shifts to that person for their own injury.
For example, if a customer inside a grocery store slips and falls after stepping into a puddle of spilled water, then it needs to be asked whether the store had a reasonable opportunity to clean up the spill. If the spill occurred five minutes prior to the fall, then a court may find the store couldn't reasonably be held to have known of the spill's presence.
However, if it is found that an employee spilled the water but left the scene without making an effort to clean it up, then the five minute factor becomes much less important than the fact the spill was caused and abandoned by a representative of the business.
As another example, if a customer is sprinting through a store and slips and falls in a puddle of water, the courts may find that running inside a place of business is an unexpected behavior, and some responsibility lies with the customer for their accident. However, the court may also still find the store partially responsible for failing to clean the spill.
As you can see, both of the above defenses are not all-or-none; courts are able to evaluate the various circumstances and find a mix of blame to share among the parties involved.
The general responsibility owed to customers
With the above thoughts in mind, a business still owes customers an overall opportunity to safely navigate through their place of business. There are few, if any, reasonable defenses for not providing the following:
Well-lit walking surfaces – a lack of visibility is not excusable, particularly if the store remains open during hours when natural lighting has faded.
Evenly-finished floor with consistency in surface preparation – floor surfaces should be finished in a manner that a customer finds predictable. For example, waxing half the floor tiles on an aisle could easily catch a customer off-guard and cause a fall.
Dry floors with wet areas appropriately barricaded and flagged – businesses have a right to mop their floors, but they should also use appropriate safeguards to keep customers away from the wet floor.
Carpets and rugs with no lifted edges in path of customers – poorly-maintained carpeting can create a trip hazard at the edges, and businesses should be alert for rugs that have a tendency to roll-up at entrances.
Visible, safe transitions in elevation – for buildings with sloping floors or steps up or down, business owners must appropriately mark the transition points. Bright colored paints and printed signs are examples of warning indicators; however, an unsafe slope that is too steep or narrow, regardless of how it is marked, may still be indefensible.
As you can see, deciding liability in slip-and-fall accidents can be much more complicated than providing simple "yes" or "no" answers to questions. If you have been injured in such an accident, then it is important for you to seek the guidance of a qualified injury attorney. They can review the circumstances surrounding your accident and help you obtain compensation for your injury if a business is at fault.
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