Use Caution

Prevent liability hassles by eliminating hazards.
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This story appears in the July 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In a Massachusetts market, a woman slipped on some grapes, fell and broke her hip. She sued the market, noting that the grapes were in full view of a checkout counter but hadn't been cleaned up. She won a settlement of $137,500. In another Massachusetts case, a customer in a hardware store was descending a spiral staircase and fell, injuring his back. The owners didn't have a building permit for the stairway, which had overly narrow treads. Under the state building code, spiral stairways were not even permitted in stores. The incident cost the owners $50,000 in damages.

The law holds property owners liable when people are injured due to hazards on their property. A property owner who knows (or should have known) of a hazard and fails to fix it or warn people is liable for injuries.

This can even extend to a crime committed on the premises if the business had reason to foresee it. A few years ago, a man walking near the parking garage of a New Jersey casino was assaulted, sustaining severe brain injury. The man and his wife sued the casino, claiming inadequate security. Given the overgrown foliage, recent muggings and lack of regular patrols, the business settled for $4.8 million.

So check your premises to see what could happen, and take steps to correct possible hazards.

Jane Easter Bahls is a writer in Rock Island, Illinois, specializing in business and legal topics.

Edition: July 2017

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