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Premises Liability - Protect Your Customers and Yourself

As an attorney, I see liabilities everywhere! When you open your doors for business, you take a risk that customers and other visitors may be injured or cause property damage. Your small business has the potential to incur liabilities on and off your premises. You have a responsibility to them to ensure your premises are fit for their intended purpose and safe. You owe it to your business, from a financial standpoint, to minimize the risks and to insure against them.

This post will look at some forms of premises liability for businesses. I’ll discuss some best practices for minimizing your exposure to these risks. Finally, we’ll look at the types of insurance that can help protect your business and its assets against these liabilities.

Premises liability arises when someone is injured from an incident when you knew or should have known of a dangerous situation and did not take steps to prevent harm to them. Your premises include its site, structures (buildings, walls, fences, roads), and utilities (water, gas, electricity). If someone is injured on your premises, they may have the right to bring legal action against you. That includes liabilities incurred by employees, customers, or others who come into your physical location.

Some common examples of premises liability are slip and fall accidents, snow and ice accidents, defective conditions, negligent or inadequate security leading to injury or assault, and inadequate maintenance of the premises.

Most states have adopted premises liability laws making a business owner responsible for its business operations, the acts of its employees, and the condition of the property. By law, a business owner has a duty to maintain the premises in a manner that is safe for the public. This includes maintaining the premises without defects, as well as ensuring that the premises are prepared for entry by the public. You can, for instance, fail to warn of unsafe conditions that your employees use, such as stairs, holes, or uneven ground. If a visitor is harmed because of these conditions, they may be able to bring a claim against your business.

Liability to the public arises when a business owner allows a third party to use its premises and then the third party is injured. For example, a restaurant owner owes a duty to a public patron to maintain the premises in a safe condition, and that includes sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots, as well as the restaurant itself. If a patron slips and falls, the restaurant owner may be liable for the damages, if the patron can show that the sidewalk was not in good condition and the owner knew, or should have known, about the problem and didn’t repair it.

Legal responsibility for injuries incurred on a business’s premises becomes complicated when the business owner leases the property from a landlord. Each party’s responsibility for the repair and maintenance of the premises should be clearly defined in the lease agreement.

The business can be liable for an injured person who is a trespasser, licensee, or business invitee. Let’s define these legal terms to make them easier to understand. A trespasser is someone who enters the property without permission, like a robber. A licensee is someone who is not expressly invited but is legally allowed. Like an advertising salesperson soliciting business without an appointment. An invitee is someone who is invited or expected by the property owner for a commercial or professional purpose, such as a customer of the business. Licensees and invitees are owed a duty of care, but in some states that duty may be different for each.

Premises liability is governed by several laws that vary by state. Some of these are the common-law duty of care, the negligence standard, and the products liability act. Other laws, such as the Consumer Product Safety Act and the standards set out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), impose additional duties on businesses. Additionally, there are other common forms of premises liability, such as public liability, negligence, strict liability, and intentional torts.

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