According to the National Retailers Federation there are more than 70,000 shopping malls in the United States. Along with the high number of shopping malls are a corresponding number of customer injuries inside those malls.
Common shopping mall accidents include:
Slip and falls are the most common form of shopping mall injury. Uneven and cracked pavement in parking lots and sidewalks, ice and snow, polished and waxed floors in mall common areas, unsecured electrical cords, step-ups into retail stores inside the mall, spilled drinks and food in food courts, crumbled or pinched floor mats, and wet bathroom floors all cause slip and fall injuries.
Escalator injuries can happen when escalators have misaligned handrails, non-synced steps, worn away or nonexistent demarcation lines, broken entry mats, and sudden stops.
Falling merchandise and debris from shelves in retail stores, temporary advertising signs placed within common areas that tumble over, and worn and broken ceiling tiles are all likely to cause injuries.
Trampling is more common than you might think. People, especially small children, are often injured when trampled by careless visitors on special sale days like the traditional “Black Friday” after Thanksgiving and other special sale days. People can trample others at mall grand openings and when the mall hires celebrities to appear, perform or sign autographs.
Dog bites can happen in shopping malls that permit dogs on the premises. Many dogs aren’t used to crowds. Often children will see a dog and want to pet it, which isn’t always a good idea. When two dogs come close to each other they can become violent, sometimes breaking away from the owner.
Assaults and muggings occur regularly in shopping mall bathrooms and in other areas not open to public view. There are also assaults in parking lots. Thugs will secretly follow customers to their cars, surprise them, and rob them of their money and valuables. Although most major shopping malls have security personnel and monitored surveillance cameras, shrewd criminals often know where they have the best chance to strike quickly while making fast exits.
Poorly maintained shopping carts cause injuries. Sharp and abrasive edges can cut visitors’ fingers and hands. Fold-down parts inside the shopping cart can pinch and injure hands and fingers.
Parking lot crashes are a frequent cause of customer injuries. Worn away or nonexistent arrows and markers separating the direction cars are supposed to travel often result in head-on and side collisions. Vehicles can hit visitors while walking to their cars when poor lighting obscures a driver’s sight.
Visitors vs. Shopping Malls
If you’re injured in a shopping mall, you may have two personal injury claims. One against the shopping mall, and the other against the retail store you were shopping in. If you were injured inside one of the retail stores, you deal with the retail store first. Your secondary claim is against the shopping mall.
On the other hand, if your injury occurred in the common area of the mall, your claim is against the shopping mall alone. Common areas of the shopping mall include the areas outside of retail stores, within the mall structure and in parking lots. This includes the area where people walk, the food court, public restrooms, elevators and escalators.
Liability for Injuries
The shopping mall’s owners are ultimately responsible, or liable, for customer safety. This means the mall owners have a legal duty to protect their visitors from harm.
To be more specific, the law in all 50 states says shopping mall owners have a very strict legal duty of care, an obligation, to protect visitors on their property from undue harm. This doesn’t mean the shopping mall owners are liable for every injury to customers. It means they have a duty to protect visitors from injury-accidents that are foreseeable.
For example, if an escalator suddenly stops and the inertia knocks you down onto one of the steps, breaking your arm, the shopping mall is probably liable. (You may have a secondary defective product claim against the escalator manufacturer as well.) In this case, the shopping mall had a duty to inspect and maintain the escalators to ensure they don’t break down while visitors are on them.
Obviously, no shopping mall owner would ever intentionally cause an escalator to stop while visitors were on it. So they might claim the escalator breakdown was unforeseeable.
However, because of the very strict duty the law puts on shopping mall owners to protect their customers, the courts would not likely accept that as an excuse. Escalator breakdowns are foreseeable events. It’s up to shopping mall owners to make sure they don’t happen. When they do, the owners are almost always liable.
On the other hand, if another customer were to drop her shopping bags on the floor directly in front of you and you tripped over them, breaking your arm, the shopping mall would probably not be liable.
For the shopping mall owner, the escalator accident/injury was foreseeable. The shopping bag accident/injury was not foreseeable. The shopping bags were not under their control. They had no duty to inspect or maintain them as they would the escalator. Your injury claim would therefore have to be against the visitor who dropped her bags in front of you.
You don’t have to be a paying customer to receive the protection of the shopping mall’s duty of care. If you’re at the mall to window shop, meet friends, or you’re there for any other legitimate reason, you’re a visitor who has a right to the mall owner’s protection from undue harm.
Evidence: What you need to win your injury claim
All shopping mall accidents aren’t as clear-cut as the escalator incident. Although the law requires shopping malls to protect its visitors, it doesn’t say malls are automatically liable when a visitor is injured. Unfortunately, it’s up to the injured visitor to prove the shopping mall was liable for the injuries and resulting costs (damages).
To prove the mall’s liability, you must have evidence showing the accident was foreseeable, and that it was the direct and proximate (legally acceptable) cause of your injuries. In other words, you have to directly link the accident to your injury.
To create the link requires evidence. Your injury claim begins and ends with evidence. Without credible evidence, your personal injury claim will likely fail. It’s the key to success. Here’s where to begin:
Ask for security personnel
If you’re in the common area and you’re injured, look for security personnel. You may have to go to the nearest retail store and ask one of the employees to call security for you. It’s very important to have your injury documented.
When security arrives, take them to the accident scene and show them what caused your fall. They’ll make a detailed incident report. The report will include the date and time of the accident, the reason for your fall, the type of injury, your contact information, and other notes relevant to the accident.
Ask for medical care
If your injuries are serious, ask security to call 911. Most security personnel have first-aid kits. They may stop the bleeding or take additional preventative measures until the paramedics arrive. If you go to the hospital, the paramedics will create a patient treatment report. The report will contain your version of the accident and the treatment given to you. Ask for a copy. You’re entitled to one.
One warning is to be careful you don’t overcompensate by requesting paramedics if your injuries clearly don’t require them. If the insurance company denies your insurance claim against the mall, you may be responsible to pay the paramedics’ costs.
If the paramedics take you to the hospital, the admitting staff will create a medical admitting chart. Your emergency room physician will use it to record the diagnosis of your injury, your prognosis, and a list of prescribed and over-the-counter medications. You can get a copy of your chart for a nominal charge.
Take photographs and videos
While waiting for security, take out your cell phone and photograph the accident scene. Be sure the date and time stamp is on. If the problem was spilled food or liquid, it’s highly likely someone will remove the spill, so it’s important to act quickly.
Take photographs and video of the spilled food or beverage. If the beverage was a clear fluid, like Sprite, photograph it at an angle sufficient to actually show the liquid. Because it’s clear, you may have to get down as low as possible to get the proper angle. Also, photograph the surrounding area to show the context of the scene.
Speak to witnesses
Witnesses are always important. While family and friends make good witnesses, independent Good Samaritans are even better. They don’t have a financial interest in the outcome of your insurance claim.
Grab the closest piece of paper, even if it’s the back of an envelope, and ask the witnesses to separately write down their contact information, a description of what they saw, and the date and time of the accident. Their written descriptions don’t have to be notarized or sworn to. That’s not a legal requirement unless challenged in court.
Check for surveillance cameras
You can be sure there are plenty of surveillance cameras in the indoor and outdoor common areas. You may not see them, but they probably recorded your injury. For example, if while leaving a restroom, a thug or thugs confront you, the assault is likely on tape. Because assaults are foreseeable events at shopping malls, mall owners have a duty to employ sufficient security personnel to prevent these criminal acts.
Gather your medical bills, receipts, and treatment records
Gather copies of all relevant documents as proof of your damages. This evidence includes copies of your medical charts and bills, prescription receipts, and a letter on your employer’s letterhead verifying your lost wages. The insurance company needs these to help calculate your settlement. Your medical bills ultimately help to calculate your compensation for pain and suffering.
Speak with attorneys
If your injuries are soft tissue like minor cuts, bruises or swelling, you can probably handle the claim on your own. You will have to file an injury claim with the mall or retail store’s insurance company and negotiate your settlement with the adjuster. If your case is straightforward and you’ve documented your costs, you shouldn’t have much difficulty getting a fair settlement offer.
If the injuries are the more serious hard injuries like broken bones, head injuries, or if you were the victim of an assault, you need an attorney. An attorney can do things you can’t and when the stakes are high, you need a lawyer’s expertise. He can subpoena mall surveillance tapes, inspect security personnel records, review mall inspection schedules and review other evidence supporting your shopping mall accident claim.
See an example of a shopping mall accident demand letter here.
Video Surveillance Proves Negligence – A woman slips on a spilled drink while shopping at the mall and breaks her arm. Video surveillance showed that no mall staff inspected, cleaned or warned shoppers of the hazard for over 2 hours.
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Visitor Questions on Business Liability for Injuries
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I fell on my way into a mall due to a depression (beginnings of a pot hole) in the parking lot/roadway. I reported it immediately to mall security but did not seek an ambulance since I was able to get up on my own. However I did have visible bruising and other injuries immediately. I... Read More >>
I suffered a Jones fracture to my foot as a result of slipping in the mall parking lot, during a downpour of rain. Unfortunately, I did not seek assistance from security on the premises and they did not complete an incident report at the time. But I did have my daughter take me to the... Read More >>
Dec 27, 2015 I was knocked down an escalator at a mall in Waldorf, MD by two teenagers who had stolen money from a patron at an ATM located right at the top of the escalator. The teens snatched the money from the patron as he withdrew it, and then forced their way down the... Read More >>
I was tripped by “pallet banding” around a/c units stacked in a main isleway of a store. On May 6, 2012 it was my first time in the store in Hickory, NC. I was browsing and looking forward and slightly upward at shelves to view the merchandise, and suddenly I fell so hard. I broke... Read More >>
I was walking from my car to the shopping mall doors, when I tripped and fell in the roadway where the cars pass through. There was a deep set crack and in the middle of the crack was a widened hole, approx the length of my foot and an inch or 2 deep. I went... Read More >>
In April 2011 my husband and I went to town to spend the day together and do some shopping. I wanted to stop at the pet store to look at some fish. We pulled into the parking lot and pulled into a parking space. It had rained that morning so the ground was wet. When... Read More >>
I fell down an escalator at a mall (the one that transports people to the higher floor, going up). I felt like the escalator was set to fast speed, it seemed like it but I’m not positive what happened for sure. I ended up with broken rib and I was brushed up bad. I went... Read More >>
At a visit to our local mall, we took our son (3 years old) to the mall play area. While in the playground, my son fell and broke his arm just above the elbow. He was taken to the ER by ambulance, and then transferred to another hospital where he was hospitalized for 3 days.... Read More >>
I was injured five months ago at a mall in Salisbury, Maryland. It was a dry summer day and while holding my calm 15 month old daughter, I fell when I stepped up onto a sidewalk and the sidewalk material under my right heel collapsed. The heel of my shoe dropped down into a wide... Read More >>
I stepped off a raised portion of walkway leading from a sidewalk in front of a store in a mall (leaving the store area). I tripped over a pothole and raised speed bump and broke my wrist. Now I’m having a hernia in my stomach area some months later. My injuries were noted on the... Read More >>
My 18 month old son and I went to the mall, it was first thing in the morning when the mall opened. I took him to a toy area where there is an octagon shaped mat and some ride-on toys (the ones you put a quarter in and they go back and forth) on the... Read More >>
Oct 23, 2009 the weather outside was heavy rain. My work is across the street from the mall. I happened to approach the mall doors as I noticed people inside, some walking around, others sitting. Shops inside the mall were not yet open as this was approx 8:30am and the mall officially opens at 9:00am.... Read More >>
I was leaving a store and six feet away from the store I was tripped by something. I have a brain lesion, i have sprained my hands, got sidewalk burns on both hands and my left elbow, and I had to stay in the hospital overnight. I had two ct scans and it was determined... Read More >>