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.
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