Most retail stores are well-run and provide a safe haven for shoppers. They are supermarkets, clothing stores, beauty salons, gas stations, quickie marts, and a host of other places. Storeowners do everything they can to make their stores hazard-free and as safe as possible for their customers. Unfortunately, with thousands of customers coming and going in retail stores every day, there are bound to be accidents and injured customers.
Accidents don’t just happen. There’s always a cause. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “9 out of 10 customer accidents result from some form of negligence.”
Retail store negligence affects you, the customer. Keep reading to learn the common causes of customer injuries, the related legal issues and what to do if you’re injured in a retail store accident.
Common Causes of Store Injuries
There are many causes of retail store customer injuries. According to the National Retail Federation the most common are:
- Liquids spilled onto the floor and aisle obstructions
- Faulty staircases, elevators, and escalators
- Merchandise falling from shelves
- Cuts from jagged shelves and showcases
- Revolving and slamming door breakdowns
- Insufficient lighting in parking lots
The law classifies customers as invitees. As an invitee, the law entitles you to safety from undue harm while on store property. This protection extends from the parking lot to inside the store. It includes dressing rooms, aisles, restrooms, and other places customers use while in the store.
To be an invitee doesn’t mean you have to spend money. As long as you intend when coming onto the store’s property to conduct business, you’re an invitee and entitled to legal protection. You might be there to browse, to buy, or to return an item. You could be there to apply for a job or to speak with the manager.
Customers aren’t the only people the law classifies as invitees. Invitees also include contractors, trucks delivering merchandise, wholesalers there to sell merchandise, and anyone else there to conduct legitimate business. As long as the purpose of the visit is to engage in some form of commercial activity, visitors to retail stores are invitees.
Duty of Care
A duty of care is legal protection against undue harm. It means retail stores must do everything reasonably possible to ensure their customers are safe from dangerous conditions that might result in injuries.
When as a result of a dangerous condition a customer is injured, the injury is often because of some form of retail store negligence. The law considers that negligence a breach, or violation, of the storeowner’s duty of care. That violation makes the retailer liable for his customer’s damages. Damages can include medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medicines, lost wages, and the customer’s pain and suffering.
Claiming a retail storeowner was negligent is one thing. Proving it is an entirely different matter. While the law demands a legal duty of care, it’s up to the injured customer to prove the storeowner failed his duty. The retail storeowner doesn’t have to prove he wasn’t negligent. Instead, it’s up to the customer to prove he was.
The law calls it the customer’s legal burden of proof, which means the customer has to prove the retailer was negligent and his negligence was the direct and proximate (legally acceptable) cause of his injuries.
How do you prove a retailer was negligent? What is the burden of proof?
To meet the burden of proof in a retail store negligence claim, you must prove the following elements:
- A dangerous condition caused your injuries.
- The retailer knew of the dangerous condition or it was foreseeable.
- The retailer failed to eliminate or repair the dangerous condition.
- You didn’t do anything to contribute to your own injury.
- The dangerous condition was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.
- Your injuries and subsequent damages are real.
These points are the basis of just about every negligence claim against a retail storeowner. Regardless of the type of retailer, to receive compensation for your damages you must meet the burden of proof.
Proving negligence requires evidence. Believable evidence is the key to succeeding in your personal injury claim against a retailer. Here’s how to collect the evidence you need. If you suffer an injury while on a retail store’s property:
- Ask for medical help or call 911 if the injury is serious enough.
- Call the manager or owner. Ask him to complete a store incident report and give you a copy. (Even if he won’t give you a copy, he will give a copy to his insurance company.)
- Ask for the insurance company’s name and contact information, or confirm the company will contact you.
- Get the names and contact information from employees and customers who witnessed the injury.
- Take photographs or video of the accident scene, especially the dangerous condition that caused your injury.
- Go to your own doctor as soon as possible after the accident to document and link your injury to the dangerous condition.
- Keep all important documentation such as receipts and copies of medical charts, medical bills, medicines, verification of lost wages, etc.
Here’s an example of a recent retail store injury and the steps taken to establish a solid personal injury claim…
John was shopping in a local store. As he walked down the aisle, he stepped on a large shard of broken glass. The shard pierced his running shoe and lodged in the sole of his foot. He began to bleed profusely. His friend Sam saw him step on the glass.
Call for Help
Sam went up to the store manager and asked him to call 911. When the manager hesitated, Sam dialed from his cell phone.
John pulled out his cell phone and photographed the remaining shards of glass on the floor, and carefully removed his shoe. Sam photographed the shard and the deep gash in John’s foot. He also photographed the remaining glass and the mirrors in the store that would have made the manager aware of the dangerous condition.
John wrapped the shard of glass in a handkerchief and kept it as evidence.
Good Samaritan Sally stopped to help. John asked if she would give him her name and contact information. She did. Sally also wrote down on a piece of paper what she saw. She signed and dated it and gave it to John.
Sam asked the manager why someone hadn’t cleaned up the broken glass before John stepped on it. The manager said he was busy at the register and hadn’t had time to clean up the glass. He said he thought customers would see it and step around it until he had time to clean it up.
Store Incident Report
Sam wrote down what the manager said. He asked the manager to sign his name. Instead the manager took out a store incident report form and filled it out, recording the date and time of the accident, the witnesses’ names and the victim’s. John asked for a copy. The manager said he would turn the report over to his insurance company.
John asked for the name of the store’s insurance company. The manager said the storeowner or the insurance company would contact him.
When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics offered to take John to the emergency room. When he hesitated, Sam reminded him of the importance of documenting his injuries. John agreed to go to the ER.
When John arrived at the hospital, he was treated. He made clear to the admitting nurse and the treating physician how he was injured. He wanted to make sure the nurse and physician noted the time of admission, diagnosis and prognosis.
John followed up two days later with his own physician. After completing treatment, John asked his doctor to give him a copy of his chart and medical bills.
Lost Wage Verification
John couldn’t walk or work for 10 days. During that time, he lost $800 in wages. John asked his employer to give him a letter verifying his lost wages for that period.
John made copies of his admitting chart, the physician’s medical narrative, his hospital bills, and verification of his lost wages. A week later, the store’s insurance company contacted him. The claim adjuster asked him to send copies of his photographs, medical bills, written statements from Sam and Sally, and any other proof of his damages.
John took all the necessary steps to meet his burden of proof. All that’s left is for him to negotiate the final amount of his settlement with the claims adjuster.
Do You Need an Attorney?
Hiring a lawyer depends on the extent of the injury. Most injuries suffered at retail stores are minor, soft tissue injuries. They include bumps, cuts, abrasions, mild lacerations, bruises, and sprained tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Injuries that don’t require hospitalization are soft tissue injuries.
Attorneys aren’t usually necessary for these types of minor injuries. In fact, many attorneys won’t accept such claims since they aren’t cost-effective. By the time the attorney finishes negotiating the settlement, after deducting his fees and costs, the final amount will be small. Because of this, it may be best to handle your own soft tissue injury claim.
However, if your injuries are the more severe hard injuries, including head trauma, deep wounds, broken bones, serious neck or back injuries, or other injuries requiring hospitalization or substantial medical expenses, then an attorney is advisable. There’s just too much at stake.
An attorney has much more power in settlement negotiations. If the lawyer doesn’t feel the settlement offer is high enough, she can file a lawsuit, using pretrial depositions (recorded statements), interrogatories (written questions), requests for production (to give documents), and other legal tactics to ensure a high settlement amount.
See an example of a retail store injury demand letter here.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
Find out now with a FREE case review from an attorney…
Visitor Questions on Business Liability for Injuries
Search for a Previously Answered Question
I was walking with a propane cylinder up to the store front of Home Depot. A 2×4 with a large rusty nail on the end was on the ground sticking out from under a wooden patio table display, into the walkway area. I tripped on the wood and the nail went into my foot and... Read More >>
I was in a home Depot store when I was injured. It was a minor but painful injury. As I went to get a drink of water from their customer watering hole, I was gouged/cut in the side from a long rusty nail that was sticking out of a pallet they had sitting on a... Read More >>
Upon walking into a Lowes Home Improvement store I stepped onto a 2-3 inch rusty nail. I am presently in the waiting room at the ER. My foot is burning and blood is all over my foot and car. After informing the manager, he said it was a common area and they aren’t responsible. I thought... Read More >>
I am 80 years old and tripped on a display in a major department store and broke my shoulder. I had total shoulder replacement surgery and will be affected the rest of my life. Medical bills totaled over $112,000. Medicare paid my medical expenses. The store has video but will not allow me to see... Read More >>
I was walking through a store and two 8 foot folding tables were laying on the floor collapsed. They were grey tables on a grey floor. I never saw the tables and walked into one of them, as it was raised up a couple of inches off the floor. I called over an employee and... Read More >>
While shopping in local discount store a huge rack of clothing crumpled and fell on me, knocking me to the floor. I hit my head, causing a concussion which was verified at the ER. It’s also causing pain in my neck and hip. The employee who assisted me said, “we are totally responsible this has... Read More >>
While on vacation in Los Angeles, my girlfriend and I went to shop in an H&M clothing store in Hollywood. While browsing in the men’s section, I was looking (not touching) at a shelf of pants on sale. Just as I turned around, a metal framed sale sign fell from the top and hit my... Read More >>
I opened a large cooler door to pick up two bottles of water at Central Market. The door must have had a broken hinge because it began to fall off the cooler/refrigerator. It hit my left arm, bounced twice on my right shin and landed on my right foot, pinning it underneath. This was a... Read More >>
Today I was shopping in between aisles in a major retail store when 2 heavy shelves fell on my foot/ankle. They were very heavy and caused others to look my way due to the loud commotion. Initially, all I noticed was that my ankle was scrapped. I then requested the manager who rushed down to... Read More >>
My mom was walking in the aisle of a well-known, national chain store. There were children playing in an aisle, and a large, adolescent boy ran backwards as she was passing and ran into her, toppling her to the ground. She screamed, and the boy ran away. She suffered a fractured shoulder, two torn tendons,... Read More >>
I asked the store clerk for a chair to sit on to try on a pair of slippers. She gave me a ladder that was standing against the wall, half in and half out of the dressing room. She set up the ladder and walked away. My mother and I couldn’t believe in a department... Read More >>
I was looking at clothing that was on two racks placed side by side on an end cap of an isle. These clothing racks were the kind on wheels. As I walked between the clothing racks, I was cut on my leg by the base of the rack that had no rubber guards on it.... Read More >>
I was walking into a store and I had just grabbed a cart. I had turned around to wait for my boyfriend when all of a sudden I felt pain in my leg, like something was hitting me. I turned around and the cart pusher had just pushed the whole row of carts into my... Read More >>
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... Read More >>
My husband took my daughter and son to see Santa at a large chain retail store this last Christmas. While walking in the main entrance doors, that were open at the time they began to walk in, the doors suddenly swung closed. The door hit my 4 year old son in the face. He was... Read More >>
While shopping at an outlet store, a display sign fell off the display rack and hit me hard in the head. As soon as it happened, a huge knot ballooned. I had to ask employees to get me an ice pack, which I got about 10min later. I did absolutely nothing to cause the sign... Read More >>
My 3 year old was with me at Victoria’s Secret last night. She was by my side at the underwear table and grabbed a drawer knob and cut her finger. It was bleeding all over. I didn’t see anything, so I felt around to see what she cut herself on and cut my finger too.... Read More >>
A looped cord fell off of the door of a store as I walked in, caught on my foot, and pulled me down on to a concrete floor. I suffered a comminuted fracture of the knee, requiring surgery with screws, and a broken arm at the radial head, in addition to severe soft tissue injuries.... Read More >>
I entered a department store while the gate was closing and the gate hit me on the back of my head. The gate continued to come down. There was no electric beam or person monitoring the gate to stop it from continuing to come down. The incident resulted in a whiplash injury requiring extensive physical... Read More >>
About a year ago I was injured at work. I made an incident report about this instance but, due to fears I will get into later, I was terrified of “making waves” and did not insist on a worker’s compensation claim as I should have and did not go to the hospital right away. At... Read More >>
I was shopping at a well known, national chain drug store about 8pm on 7/4/13. I was walking through the store and I turned right at end of the aisle, not knowing there was an empty pallet about 3 inches high that had contained a Pepsi display (the empty Pepsi crates were stacked in the... Read More >>
I was walking thru a furniture store aisle when I tripped and fell over a thick decorative carpet that was featured in a furniture display grouping. I cut my knee, my face was black and blue, and my shoulder was broken both horizontally and vertically. According to the orthopedist I saw this will take a... Read More >>
My family was in line at the cash register in a store and the aisle was partially blocked by a rack filled with clothing. The rack had wheels protruding from the bottom which were difficult to see under the clothes. My son tripped over one of the wheels and fell into a support post, hitting... Read More >>
I fell at a store due to liquid on the floor. There were many witnesses and a demonstrator for the store had straight eye contact with me as I fell. I was given an accident report but when I went to my doctor they refused to see me, stating they did not deal with insurance... Read More >>
I was shopping with my Fiance and 6 month old son at a national chain retail store in Chattanooga, TN. While walking through one of their aisles, I sliced open my leg on one of their electrical outlet’s broken covers. There was no caution sign listed. The cover was broken with a very sharp edge... Read More >>
I was injured 4 months ago as I was walking into a national chain sporting goods store. The door shut on my foot because it had no spring and I instantly started limping. I thought the pain would pass so I did not make an injury report at the time. I have had continuous pain... Read More >>
I was looking through a bin of merchandise at a 99 cent store and cut the top of my right index finger on a four inch blade. The blade shouldn’t have been sitting openly in the bin. The manager stated that it was probably something they sold that fell out of the package. I have... Read More >>
My daughter was in a cooking store and grabbed a knife sitting on the display, slicing open her thumb. I’m wondering how they can leave sharp objects like knives sitting open and accessible so any child can touch them? Isn’t there a law to prevent this? Read More >>
My friend was shopping in a department store one day and saw something she needed in one of the aisles. As she approached the item on the shelf, there was a ladder in the general area of the aisle. As she grabbed her item, she slightly bumped the ladder as she turned around to walk... Read More >>
I walked into a store and opened a cooler. The metal cooler hinge was taped with scotch tape instead of screwed in like the others. It fell down and struck the right side of my head. It left a little cut (possibly will be a scar) and a knot, plus its been 4 days an... Read More >>
I was standing at the return counter at a national home improvement store chain when a ceiling light fell and hit me. The light cut my calf and a piece of glass embedded itself into the skin. The laceration was about 1″ long and became infected. The home improvement store refused to provide medical care... Read More >>
Last week I purchased a cup of tea for my 5 year old daughter from the local book store in Florida. The tea was so hot, past the boiling point, and the clerk even said “it might be too hot”. As I took it back to the counter to ask for another cup of cooler... Read More >>
I was inside a world market store looking at the framed art 2 days ago, when a sharp metal object fell on my head. I left the store without filing a report or anything. I now have a huge bump on my head and it still hurts. When I called the store this morning they... Read More >>
I went into a dollar store to get a serving platter. I found the item, however they were stacked on the bottom shelf. They were stacked pretty tight. I went to get one and pulled on the platter because it was stuck to the bottom one and wouldn’t budge. I felt a little sting in... Read More >>
This was totally a freak thing… my daughter and I were walking along an isle at a major chain retail store, and a large bag of bean bag filler fell from about 12 feet and hit my daughter square in the head. It probably only weighed 2 pounds, but she complained of a headache for... Read More >>
I fell and broke my kneecap in the garden department of a national chain retail store. I walked in the back entrance, took 20 steps and fell by the cash register. The floor was wet all the way to the register. When I walked in I saw a clerk watering plants and said hi to... Read More >>
I was shopping in a dollar store in North Carolina while on vacation. They had beach chairs stacked on the very top shelf. One of the chairs fell off and landed on my shoulder. The pain was very intense and I was sore for months after. I went to the doctor and had x-rays but... Read More >>
About a month ago, I was at a wine store and as I grabbed a wine bottle it slipped and fell out of my hand. As it hit the floor, glass few everywhere and I received a deep cut between my fingers. An ambulance was called and I went to ER. It turned out one... Read More >>
I went to a store to purchase two doghouses. They keep the doghouses outside. One of the women working at the counter informed me that they have to lift the dog house over the top of the fence to get it out because it won’t fit through the gate. We went outside to where they... Read More >>
I was at a liquor store, purchasing a handle of rum. The cashier only single bagged the bottle, and as I picked it up, it broke through the bag. Glass went flying and it cut my leg resulting in 6 stitches. Do I have any merit to a personal injury claim? Read More >>
I was at the store and slipped on a wet floor. I was at the register counter when I fell. I hurt my back and feel pain in my injured knee. I’ll be going to the doctor tomorrow to check everything out. I would just like to know what to do in such a situation?... Read More >>
I entered a major store and went to retrieve a buggy from the first row. I was standing beside the first row of buggies. The two buggies were stuck together so after pulling on them for a few seconds I decided to move to the second row where a buggy was loose. As I went... Read More >>
I slipped and fell at a department store about 11am on a weekday morning. I was walking through the store and slipped on a large puddle of water that was left by a an employee who was cleaning the floors with a large riding machine. After I fell, I got an employee and showed him... Read More >>
My daughter & I were nearing the exit at a major box store and a guy sprayed a substance in the air upon his entry. My daughter was about a foot from him, and received the brunt of it. I was getting my store receipt ready for the person at the exit doors to look... Read More >>
I stepped out of my car in a parking lot of a retail store on a day when it had snowed. As I approached the front of the store, I stepped onto a large patch of ice in front of the sidewalk (still in the parking lot). The sidewalk had been salted; the parking lot... Read More >>