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Liability for Injuries that Occur in Grocery Stores, Retail Stores & Fast-Food Restaurants

Posted by attorney John Sauter

Every day thousands are injured as the result of slips, trips and falls in grocery stores, retail store and fast-food restaurants. Owners of these establishments owe their customers a duty to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition so that the customer is not exposed to unnecessary and unreasonable dangers. The owner can be held liable for the customer's injuries in a court of law when the owner breaches that duty by failing to take reasonable precautions to protect customers from reasonably foreseeable dangers.

Common injuries in retail stores and restaurants include:

  • Slipping on wet surfaces that are not properly marked with a 'wet floor' sign;
  • Tripping on entry mats and rugs;
  • Tripping on boxes or pallets that are left in a store isle;
  • Falling objects, particularly when a store places unsecure items above head-height on a shelf;
  • Sharp edges on promotional display stands and/or shelving units

Limitations on Liability for Injuries

Not all injuries that occur on the premises of another result in legal liability. To prove negligence, an injured person must show that the premises owner breached the duty owed to the customer by failing to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition so that the customer was exposed to an unnecessary and unreasonable danger.

The premises owner's duty is limited, however, by lack of foreseeability of injury and by the open-and-obvious doctrine.

Premises owners are not insurer's of complete safety. It would be unfair to hold them responsible for every injury that occured on their property, particulary if some of those injuries were not foreseeable. Forseeability measures whether a reasonable person would have anticipated that an injury was likely to result from the performance or non-performance of an act. Only foreseeable injuries are actionable.

The owner of a premises has no duty, and will not be held liable for injuries that occur when a customer encounters a dangerous condition that is so open and obvious in its appearance. This idea is derived from the idea that a danger which is open-and-obvious, is in itself, a warning. Courts frequently find that potholes, rugs and mats, spills and boxes or pallets left on the floor are open-and-obvious hazards.

Proving Liability

An injured customer can show that a premises owner breached his or her duty of care to the customer if:

  • An employee of the premises owner was responsible for the hazard that caused injury;
  • An employee of the premises owner had actual knowledge of the hazard, yet failed to warn of the hazard or remove the hazard; or
  • The hazard existed for a sufficient length of time to reasonable justify the inference that the failure to warn of the hazard or remove it was attibutable to lack of reasonable care

In addition, the hazard must be one that is foreseeable and is not open-and-obvious in its nature. For example, it would be foreseeable that a bottle of corn syrup, spilled on a grocery store floor, could cause injury. Because of its clear nature, it would not be an open-and-obvious hazard, because it could not easily be seen. However, if the substance that was spilled was fruit punch, which is bright-red in appearance, negligence would likely not attach, because while it could be foreseeable that an injury might occur due to a slip and fall, its bright-red appearance would render the hazard open-and-obvious, thus providing a full defense to liability, despite the premises owner permitting the liquid to be on the floor for a certain length of time.

Protecting Yourself

If you've been injured as the result of a slip, trip or fall in a store or restaurant, it's advisable to take the following measures to ensure the best possible outcome for your claim:

  • Report the incident. Ensure that a manager fills out an incident report.
  • Talk to those who saw the injury. Witnesses are invaluable in proving that the hazard existed and was not open-and-obvious.
  • Photograph everything. Photographing the injury-causing hazard will provide important evidence of the nature of the hazard.
  • Get medical treatment.
  • Seek legal representation from an attorney who specializes in personal injury, including premises liability.

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