One source of potential liability for small business owners are the varying degrees of hazards upon their business premises. This is especially true for business that have a lot of foot traffic – restaurants, retail stores, and apartment complexes, to name a few.
Lawyers call this “premises liability” because it is the liability that attaches to a person or entity because they own, operate, or control a premises or property. Generally, small business owners find themselves confronted with a lawsuit because either:
- They, through its officers, employees or agents, were responsible for the hazard;
- They had actual knowledge of the hazard and neglected to promptly remove it or give adequate notice of its presence; or
- The hazard existed for a sufficient length of time to reasonably justify the inference that the failure to remove it or warn against it was attributable to a lack of ordinary care.
Bare in mind, just because you don’t see or know about a hazard, does NOT mean that you can avoid liability. In premises liability cases, ignorance is NOT bliss and can actually lead to greater liability. Instead, business who own, operate, or control a premises or property have a duty of reasonable inspection to uncover latent (unknown or unobservable) hazards. Here are some common pointers to avoid liability:
- Understand the Laws. Many municipalities enact ordinances that require premises owners to take affirmative action concerning repairing walkways, removal of snow and addressing other nuisances on the property. There are also laws from the State of Ohio and Federal government concerning landlord-tenant duties, accessibility standards, fire, health, and other applicable building codes. Failure to follow the applicable law is a recipe for liability.
- Conduct Regular Inspections. Premises owners cannot just sit on their hands; they have to actually inspect the premises. Inspections by the business owner should be regular noting any defects, required repairs, and other hazards.
- Repair Immediately and Warn: If your inspection reveals a defect or hazard, fix it immediately. If it is going to take some time, be sure to cordon off the area or, at the very least, place proper signage warning business guests of the hazard. Failure to do so will expose your business to liability.
- Consider Other Circumstances and Factors: Often times, even hazards which are “open and obvious” are considered unreasonable and unsafe because of “attendant circumstances.” These are factors that would divert or distract business guests’ attention away from the hazard. Whether it is flashy displays in close proximity to the hazard, areas of increased traffic, or even casual conversation with other guests or staff, these circumstances can result in liability for your business. Keep theses factors in mind when conducting regular inspections.
If you are interesting in protecting your business from premises liability, please contact Scott for a no cost, no obligation consultation and case evaluation.