I have a retail grocery store in Georgia that I started 3 months ago. Recently, while a customer was reaching for a glass jar of jelly, it fell on top of the customer's foot. The customer is suing my business for an injury to his toes. Is my business liable for his medical bills?
Premises liability claims in Georgia are based upon the comparative knowledge of a dangerous condition between the property owner and the guest. Generally speaking, if one of your patrons is injured on your premises, the question that must be answered is: did the property owner know, or should have known, of a dangerous condition which led to the injury of a patron? If so, the property owner may be liable. Property owners may be able to provide a defense where they can show the patron's knowledge of the condition was equal to their own, or where the patron failed to reasonably watch out for their own safety.
As others have suggested, you should report this to your insurer if you have not already and let your insurer's attorneys handle the claim for you.
Only the trier of fact ( judge or jury) can definitively answer that for you after hearing all the evidence, much of which you don't even know yet. You'll find out more during what's known as the discovery period of litigation. At any rate, it doesn't sound like you or your employees had superior knowledge of a defect or hazard on the premises of which you and your employees failed to warn the plaintiff, which is the legal basis for premises liability in Georgia. It sounds like the plaintiff was negligent in dropping the jar. Hopefully you had liability coverage in place at the time and have reported the situation to the insurance company. If you had coverage but have not reported it to the insurer you should do so immediately.
The good news - unless you did something very foolish and started a business without a large premises liability policy (and every business MUST have that), you simply call your insurer (you should have done that already!). If there is a valid claim or lawsuit is won, they not only pay, but they pay the enormous defense costs.
If you were completely foolish and failed to do so, I suggest (1) LOCK YOUR DOORS AND SHUT YOUR BUSINESS DOWN UNTIL YOU BUY A MINIMUM ONE MILLION DOLLAR PREMISES LIABILITY POLICY - larger is better. You cannot afford the risk not to have this!, and (2) Pay a lawyer to respond to the suit. You will have a large cost to do this, but you must. The large cost would be due to your negligence in not having insurance. Remember that your anser must be filed within 30 days.
Simply put, there is no way for anyone to reasonably predict whether you are liable or not. Liability will really depend upon the specific facts of your case. Since you recently opened for business, it is unlikely that an event like this has ever happened in the past. Thus, it will be more difficult for a patron to say that you should have worked harder to make your store safe for invitees. However, on the other hand one might argue that a shop owner with any experience should have known that placing glass jars several feet above the ground created an unreasonable risk to patrons given that you should have expected accidents like these, e.g. they are common in the industry. These are just a few preliminary examples of how your facts will be reviewed. In any case, you should retain a lawyer as soon as possible to provide a case evaluation and/or to begin preparing your case.
FYI, it is advisable to have an employee get a written statement from the customer to memorialize what she/he perceived prior to and contemporaneously with the incident; i.e. get a narrative. It always helps to have the customer tell you everything they recall while it is still fresh in their mind. Alternatively, you should review the video of the accident (and preserve it) should it exist.
I hope this helps. Best of luck to you.
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