Small Business Premises Liability

July 5, 2012

California small business owners should take note that premises liability claims are on the rise in recent years. This can mean one of two things: Either business customers have become clumsier, or the likelihood of recovering damages on a premises liability suit has increased. Either way, Sacramento small business attorneys encourage small business owners to take preventative measures to ensure that their premises are safe so that their exposure to lawsuits is kept at a minimum.

The general rule in most states, including California, is that when a member of the public lawfully sets foot on property used for business operations, the business can be liable to that person for injuries he or she sustains while on the business property. These people are called business invitees because the business essentially welcomes their presence on the property so that the business may conduct a sale or provide a service. As a business owner, it is important to note that a person need not purchase a good or service to be a business invitee. Merely browsing or inquiring about a business transaction is sufficient to confer that legal status on the person.

Once a business invitee enters the property, the business or its owner/operator owes several legal duties to the invitee. Generally speaking, a business owner must take “reasonable care” to protect invitees from hazards by keeping the premises in a safe condition. This means that invitees must be kept safe from open or known hazards on the property. By contrast, a business typically has no legal duty to keep invitees safe from obvious, hidden, or unknown hazards.

However, be aware that skilled personal injury lawyers can convince a jury that you, the business owner, should have known of a particular hidden or unknown hazard if you had undertaken a reasonable inspection of the property. These are the facts on which most premises liability suits are litigated. There is no bright line rule as to what constitutes a reasonable inspection for hazards, or what steps a business can take to convince a jury that the injury was a plain and simple accident.

This is where a skilled California small business lawyer can be an invaluable ally. Premises liability consulting services are available to educate the business owner as to the best practices and procedures that demonstrate reasonable care for your business invitees.

In particular, your attorney can help you determine how best to prevent accidents in the first place. Some easy fixes include adequate lighting, warning signage, maintenance records. Additionally, your premises liability consultant can help draft employee training procedures so that your employees know the proper methods for reporting potential hazards, can find the right people to eliminate the hazard, and will document what preventative measures were taken. Finally, and most importantly, your attorney can help determine whether your insurance coverage is adequate to cover premises liability claims.

Though these procedures may be cumbersome and even expensive to implement, premises liability is an area in which an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure. Let a California business attorney help you craft a proactive approach to protecting your business from liability.

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