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June 21st, 2018

Pennsylvania Law: Business Liability for Accidents & Injuries

crack stair accident injuryCan a Business be Liable for a Customer’s Accident or Injury in Pennsylvania?

Under Pennsylvania business liability law, all types of businesses can be held liable for accidents or injuries that occur on the premises. However, there has to be evidence of negligence or fault, i.e., the business or store:

  1. actually created the problem,
  2. knew about the problem but failed to correct it, or
  3. should have known about the problem, but failed to notice it.

Customers who are injured in accidents or mishaps that occur on the premises of a business like a grocery store, gas station or retail store may have legal rights against the store owner or operator. By far, the most common type of accident is a slip or trip and fall, where a customer slips on a wet substance like water or food or where a customer trips over something on or in the floor. Sometimes, the injuries can be quite serious. Broken arms or legs are common. In addition, individuals can sustain head injuries or back injuries.

In addition to the typical slip or trip and fall accident, customers may sustain injuries in other types of incidents like a crime victim injury from criminal activity on the premises or a collapse accident involving part of the building itself. A floor, stairway, wall or shelf may collapse onto a customer. For example, a customer is shopping in a retail store when a shelving display collapses, striking her in the head.

Negligence or Wrongdoing is Required

Many customers who’re injured in accidents at a business or store in Pennsylvania mistakenly believe that the business is automatically liable. This is not true. Pennsylvania law requires evidence of negligence which is defined as failing to do something you should do or doing something you shouldn’t be doing. What makes or breaks these kinds of cases is the strength of the evidence. You have to prove that the business did one of three things:

  1. actually created the problem,
  2. knew about the problem but failed to correct it, or
  3. should have known about the problem, but failed to notice it.

Brief Examples of Negligence

hospital gurney emergency roomStore Created the Defect

A store in Pennsylvania decides to remodel the entryway on its own. The store owner has some construction experience and decides to rebuild a set of entryway stairs. In doing so, the owner builds the stairs, but fails to use the correct materials. One week later, a customer walking on the stairway falls when the stair separates from the platform.

Store Knew About the Problem But Didn’t Correct It

The owner of a popular and busy restaurant in Pennsylvania learns about a large and deep crack in the pavement leading to an entrance. Over the course of months, the crack continues to widen, and the owner continues to receive reports and complaints from customers and employees. A customer trips over the crack and breaks her arm.

Store Should Have Known About the Problem

A shopping mall management company in Pennsylvania is supposed to conduct quarterly walkthroughs of the property. It is contractually obligated to do so in its agreement with the owner of the property. However, the management company simply fails to conduct the walkthroughs. Had it done so, it would have noticed that part of a stairway was buckling and showing major signs of failure. It collapses with a customer on it.

Unreasonable Conduct Required

In addition, the circumstances must show that whatever conduct the store or business engaged in, or didn’t engage in, was unreasonable. Whether something is unreasonable depends on what everyday, average people would have done in the same situation.

Two factors are important in personal injury cases against businesses in Pennsylvania: timing and the nature of the risk (the degree of harm at risk). How much time did the store have to take action? Was it hours, days, weeks or months? Whether the failure to take action was negligent and unreasonable depends on the degree of harm at risk. We’ll discuss two examples to illustrate this point.

Example 1: A retail store in Philadelphia has a water fountain, and it’s leaking water onto the floor. The fountain is located in an area of low traffic. The leak is discovered two days before a customer slips and falls on a small puddle of water on the floor.

Example 2: Let’s use the same facts in the first example. However, let’s change one fact. The water fountain is located at the top of a marble stairway in an area of high traffic.

In example 1, the fact that the leaking water fountain was located in an area of low traffic makes the degree of harm quite low. In example 2, the fact that the fountain was located at the top of a stairway in an area of high traffic means the risk of harm is quite high. Someone could easily slip on a puddle of water at the top of the stairs and fall down the entire flight. The risk of harm is pretty extreme in example 2, whereas in example 1, the risk of harm is moderately low.

Given the risk of harm in each example, the fact that the leak was discovered two days prior would probably result in liability in the second example, but not the first. That’s because of the significant difference between the risk of harm in the two examples.

Visit the PA & NJ Business Liability Law Library for more info.

Pennsylvania Injury Law Firm

Our Pennsylvania law firm handles injury and accident lawsuits against all types of businesses. We’ve recovered over $200 million for our clients and are regularly rated as “Top Personal Injury Lawyers” by Super Lawyers magazine. Contact us for a FREE CONSULTATION at (866) 641-0806.

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