Retail establishments like stores and restaurants have a duty to maintain premises that are as safe as they reasonably can be for customers. These environments are always changing as people move through the space, and hazards are often created by other customers. While property owners cannot always be held liable for hazards created by customers, they nonetheless need to be ready to respond to common problems and address them before other customers get hurt.
A good example is cart management at stores. If customers are always abandoning carts in locations where others might trip over them, it is up to store employees to keep an eye out and move carts before they harm someone. A lawsuit recently in the news seems to be a good example of this problem.
The defendant in the lawsuit is a big-box store called Menards, which is the third largest home improvement chain in the country (behind Lowe’s and The Home Depot). In 2013, a North Dakota woman visited her local store to exchange some merchandise. As she left the customer service desk, she tripped over and fell onto a large flat cart that someone had left in a common walking area.
The trip-and-fall resulted in seven cracked teeth, which necessitated a lot of expensive dental work to repair. She filed a premises liability lawsuit and was awarded $40,000 plus attorney fees. The jury found Menards 100 percent liable for the woman’s injuries. Menards has appealed the ruling, and the outcome of the appeal is still pending.
Cases like this can be tricky because of the rapidly changing environment of large retail establishments. The woman alleged that Menards failed to keep the walking area cleared of obstructions, while Menards argued that the woman was responsible for her own injuries because she wasn’t paying careful attention to her surroundings.
A common third option (which doesn’t seem to be mentioned in this case) is that another customer created the hazard by leaving a cart there and the store did not have adequate time to become aware of the hazard and mitigate it. This is often a defense successfully used by property owners in premises liability cases, because it is not considered reasonable to hold a store liable for a hazard it did not create and didn’t have time to learn about or address.
Premises liability cases are often more complex than they may seem, and the details really matter. That’s why, if you’ve been injured at a store or other unsafe property, you need the help of an experienced and skilled personal injury attorney.