Understanding Store Owners' Responsibility to Ensure a Safe Environment
Summary: A store owner has many legal responsibilities. At the top of that list is ensuring a safe shopping environment for shoppers. As a recent tragedy shows, sometimes storeowners are negligent in that responsibility, and families pay a heavy price.
A Shocking Example of Negligence
On Friday, March 2, a family in Georgia took an innocent shopping trip to their local Payless ShoeSource. They were shopping for their two-year-old daughter. As they browsed the rows of shoes, they heard a crash. The curious toddler was playing near one of the store’s full-length mirrors, when it toppled on top of her. The force of the large mirror on the tiny girl caused fatal injuries, leaving the family in shock.
In this tragic case, it appears the family has the ability to file a wrongful death claim. The store’s owner or manager should have been aware of the sheer weight of the mirror and taken proper measures to ensure it was tightly anchored to the wall or shelving unit. This tragedy also points out a serious legal responsibility that store owners have to ensure their patrons are protected. Here’s a closer look at just what that responsibility is.
What Is Premises Liability?
This type of accident falls under the topic of premises liability. Premises liability refers to the liability that a property owner has to provide a safe environment to those who visit the property. This liability applies to store owners as well as other commercial and residential property owners.
How does Premises Liability Apply to Store Owners?
Under premises liability law, store owners must provide the highest degree of care to anyone they invite into their establishment. This means ensuring they have done everything reasonable to keep their establishment free of obvious or known dangers. Some types of dangers that might be obvious include:
- Trip-and-fall hazards from cords or loose flooring
- Unstable shelving
- Heavy items at risk of falling
- Ladders left where customers could trip on them
- Clear fire hazards
- Chemicals stored in accessible areas
- Icy sidewalks not salted or shoveled.
The store owner must look for these dangers and correct them when found. Failure to do so could lead to liability if someone is injured or killed.
The tricky part of premises liability when it applies to store owners is that it is difficult to know whether the store owner has done everything possible to find and fix dangers. This is not measurable, so the decision is left up to a jury in instances where someone is injured. In cases like the young girl in Georgia, the jury is left to ask whether or not the store owner did all in his or her power to avoid the risk.
As a shopper, you have the right to expect store owners to provide you and your family with safety when you enter a store. If your safety is not protected, and you are injured as a result, you have the right to seek to hold the store’s owner or company liable for your injuries. Shopping should be a safe and enjoyable activity, and the law agrees.
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