Is the store liable for my injury if I volunteered to help?

by Elvin
(Bellflower, CA)

While shopping at a clothing store, I saw 2 girls setting up a table and they were having a hard time because it was heavy. I offered my help and I felt a snap on my left arm after carrying the heavy object. I felt a lot of discomfort but thought it was nothing.

The employees knew I was somewhat injured and I thought it wasn't anything serious and left the store. Two hours after leaving the store, I went to the ER since the pain got worse. After an x-ray, the doctor diagnosed me with a bicep tendon/ligament tear/disruption.

What can I do? Is the store liable at all to pay my medical bills since I volunteered to help? Thank you.

Visitor Question:
Disclaimer: Information provided in our response is NOT formal legal advice. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Under no circumstances should the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Our response does NOT create an attorney-client relationship. Always get a formal case review from a licensed attorney in your area.

ANSWER for "Is the store liable for my injury if I volunteered to help?":

Elvin (Bellflower, CA):

Stores have a legal "duty of care" to do everything possible to assure their employees and customers are not unduly harmed. When a store fails to take all reasonable precautions and an employee, customer, or other legally invited guest is injured, the store is said to have "breached" its legal duty if care. That breach constitutes negligence.

When that negligence becomes the direct and proximate cause of a person's injuries, the injured person may have a legitimate personal injury claim against the store for damages. Here's a more in-depth look at everything you can claim for damages.

However, you are in a precarious position. From the facts you present, the employees were going about their jobs by setting up a table. At that point you volunteered to help. While that was certainly a magnanimous gesture, you had no legal duty to join in.

Moreover, there isn't any evidence the store was negligent. For example, if you had been shopping and were sorting through clothes on the same table, and the table collapsed on your foot, then the store would likely have been negligent in not taking care to make sure the table didn't collapse.

In that case the store would have had a legal duty to make sure the table was sturdy enough not to have collapsed on your foot. If the collapse resulted in injuries, there is a very good argument you would have had a right to collect damages from the store's owners.

It may be difficult to prove the store was negligent since you volunteered for the activity in which you were injured, and that activity is not one in which normal shoppers would be expected to engage in.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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