As a premises liability lawyer, I know that small business owners have a big job to do. When you open your doors to customers, vendors, and anyone else who happens into your business, you are expected to use reasonable care in keeping them safe. Of course, accidents happen. But in order for the victim to hold you responsible, they have to prove that you were negligent and allowed them to be hurt.
The customer has to be able to prove that you knew about a dangerous situation or you should have known about it and you neglected to remedy the problem. At the same time, they have to show that they could not have prevented themselves from being hurt by avoiding an obvious problem.
Let’s look at an example.
Mr. Jones comes into your shop and goes to buy a soda, the machine has malfunctioned and there is water on the floor. Mr. Jones slips and falls in the water and hurts himself. He can argue that you should have known that the refrigerator was not working and therefore, it is your fault that he was injured.
Now, let’s say that Mr. Jones came into your store and goes to buy a soda. When you opened the store today, you realized the refrigerator was broken and there was water on the floor. You placed a “wet floor” sign on the floor and called for a repairman. Mr. Jones tries to step past the sign and slips in the water. You are not responsible for his injuries. You had warned the customer, called for repair, and his own action brought on the injury.
Training and Procedures
The best way to avoid lawsuits is to train your employees and put procedures in place to keep the public safe. You can make it store policy to:
- Inspect the floors every two hours for items that are out of place and blocking the aisles.
- Check the bathrooms for wet floors.
- Check the entryway to ensure the lights are working and the walk is not icy or wet.
- Have wet floor warning signs available for use.
- Make it a policy to clean up immediately and never place stock on the floor
- Have repairs done quickly and professionally. Never try to patch things. That simply is an admission that you knew of the problem and did not correct it.
By putting these measures into effect (and in writing), you are taking reasonable steps to ensure the safety of your employees and customers.
The best preventative measures in the world are not going to prevent all accidents. Do not change your business and livelihood. Be sure you carry adequate insurance. It only takes one accident that can be proven to be your fault, to ruin a small business. There are medical expenses, attorney fees, pain and suffering, lost wages, physical therapy, and court costs. These bills will add up very quickly. That is why small businesses invest in liability insurance. This is for your protection. If you are being sued, do not try to handle it alone. Contact a premises liability attorney.