In Washington state, business owners owe a higher standard of care to its guests and persons on their premises. Generally, a business owner or occupier of a property owes business invitees the duty to use reasonable care, which includes an affirmative duty to discover and warn against dangerous conditions. If you are injured as a result of a dangerous or unsafe condition of a business premises, then your premises liability attorney may have a personal injury claim under a theory of premise liability.
When Business Owners Could Be Responsible for Your Injuries
Business owners can be liable for a person’s injuries on their property under a variety of situations, such as:
- A grocery shopper goes to the local grocery store and slips on a wet floor, sustaining injuries. Depending on the circumstances of the slip and fall, the injured party may have a case.
- A patient visits his or her doctor for a routine visit. The stairs are not properly maintained and one of the stairs gives way, thus injuring the patient while on a routine doctor’s visit. If the doctor’s office was responsible to maintain the stairs or warn its patients, then this situation could result in liability. If the owner of the premise, who is not the doctor, is responsible for maintaining the stairway, then the owner could be liable for your injuries.
- It is winter and there is snow and ice throughout the city. A customer walks up the walkway to a mall and slips and falls on the walk way because the snow and ice were not cleared. If this was a common walkway or the main entrance, then the mall lessor or owner could be liable for the injured person’s injuries.
Person’s Status on Premises
Whether a business owner owes a duty of care to persons on their premises depends on the reason the person is on the premises. As your premises liability attorney can tell you, legally, a person on a business premises falls into three categories.
Invitees can be classified as either a business or a public invitee. A business invitee or visitor is one who is on the premises for a proper business purpose. Examples would be a customer at a mall or for any other lawful commercial purpose. A public invitee is one who enters the property for an express or implied noncommercial purpose in a situation where the property is open to the public. An example would be a visitor to a public park during regular park hours. Business owners owe the highest duty of care to a business visitor.
A licensee is a person who is on the premises because the licensee has a particular skill or expertise and for an express purpose. In these situations, the business owner is not required to warn the licensee of the particular risk or danger if it is related to the purpose for which the licensee is on the property. As an example, if there is a fire, a business owner is not required to warn a fire fighter of the inherent dangers of fire-fighting. Other examples would be licensed roofers and fireworks technicians, both of which are expected to know the risks of their trade. This is not to say that a business owner does not owe any duty of care to the licensee, but that the duty is less stringent than the duty owed to a business invitee.
A trespasser is a person who is on the property without permission, such as entering the premises or building after close of business. A business owner usually has very little, if any, duty of care to a trespasser on the property.
Types of Duties a Business Owner Owes Its Customers
There are several instances in which a business owner owes its customers a duty of care. Generally, the business owner’s affirmative duty to keep the premises safe and for its intended purpose extends to all aspects of their business. A premises liability attorney discusses some situations in which a business owner would be liable for a customer’s injuries.
The business owner had actual knowledge of the unsafe condition.
For example, if a business owner knew of its slippery floor or faulty entrance but did not take any steps to warn customers of these unsafe conditions or to remedy them then the business owner is usually liable for the customer’s injuries from the unsafe condition.
The business owner had constructive knowledge of the unsafe condition.
This refers to a situation where the business owner’s employees know of the unsafe condition. This knowledge will be imputed to the business owner and, if a customer is injured, the business owner would be liable. The same example used in the paragraph above would result in liability.
The business owner’s employees caused the condition.
In this instance, if an employee caused the dangerous condition, then the business owner will be liable. Examples would be spilled liquids, unstable product stacking or a broken door or window.
The business owner had no knowledge of the dangerous condition.
In these situations, liability depends on whether the business owner should have known about the dangerous condition. An example would be if a customer spilled a drink in an aisle in a grocery store. If the spilled drink was there for just a few minutes before a customer slipped and fell and was injured, then the business owner might not be liable. But if the spilled drink was there for hours and no one cleaned it up, the business owner could be liable.
There is a limited self-service exception.
That is, a business owner may not be liable for injuries sustained by a customer when that customer is using products in the self-service section of the business owner’s premises. This exception does not apply throughout the store and there must be a relationship between the hazardous condition and the self-service mode of operation of the business for the exception to apply.
The business owner failed to keep the common areas in a reasonably safe condition.
This applies to both natural and artificial areas, such as the walkway to the store entrance and the actual store entrance. As an example, a store owner’s failure to keep the store walkway and entrance reasonably safe, could result in liability.
Speak to a Vancouver Premises Liability Attorney Today
If you sustained an injury while legally on another’s property, contact a premises liability attorney at the Law Offices of Loren Scott Etengoff today.