Imagine that you are out having a few drinks with your friends at the club, having a great time. You head outside at the end of the night to hail a cab but wind up being assaulted in the parking lot. While this is clearly a case of assault, it might also be the grounds for a premises liability lawsuit if it involves negligent security.
For a less drastic example, imagine that you are grabbing groceries for the week. Another customer bumps into a display, one of those overly large ones they often have in the middle of the aisles. Happens a hundred times a day in a store like that, only this was the unlucky bump that brings it toppling down, and you are right in the way of all the falling merchandise.
These two examples may seem to have little in common, but they are both examples of when a business might be held liable for injuries caused to a customer by a customer. We’ll keep with both of these examples going forward as we look at how premises liability works, when a business might be held liable for injuries caused by a customer, and why these cases can be pretty complicated.
How Does Premises Liability Work?
Premises liability is a field of legal practice that is intimately related to personal injury. The key difference is that premises liability is focused on the premises where an accident happened and whether or not the owner or managers of that premise are responsible.
Just like personal injury lawsuits, these cases require you to prove several essential factors. You have to show that you were injured. That injury has to be shown to have come from an accident you suffered on the premises of the property owner you are holding liable. Hardest of all, you have to show that the accident occurred because of a dangerous condition that they either ignored or created.
So this can cover any number of different kinds of accidents. Slip and falls are quite common, whether because of wet conditions or other reasons like uneven flooring. Another premises liability case may focus on exposure to harmful chemicals.
These cases can cover quite a wide range of injuries and accidents, but they always focus on the individual or individuals responsible for maintaining the premise. This is often not the individual that caused the accident, though it can be. More often, it is the party responsible for allowing the dangerous condition that caused the accident.
When Would a Business Be Liable for Injuries Caused By a Customer?
Returning to our examples from the introduction, we can see now how both of these stories tie into premises liability lawsuits. The assault at the nightclub could be a prime example of a negligent security case, depending on certain factors that we will elaborate on. The grocery store accident is a clear case of falling merchandise due to a ‘high stacking.”
“High stacking” is a term retailers use to describe the way certain stores stack merchandise in the store aisles, ten, fifteen, or even twenty feet tall. Not only does this make the merchandise too tall for anybody but a giant to grab, but it also creates the risk that the merchandise will fall and injure somebody.
In our example, the stacked merchandise was stuck by another customer, and therefore the injuries that you suffered could be argued to be that person’s fault. However, the real culprit, in this case, is the person that decided to stack the merchandise so high in the first place. It was that choice that ultimately caused your injuries far more than it was the work of the person that bumped the display. Of course, if the person that bumped the display did so in order to provoke it to fall or something else equally negligent, then they may also share liability for the accident.
In the nightclub example, it cannot be argued that the business owner assaulted you. That was clearly the work of another person, either another patron or a stranger on the street. However, the owner of the nightclub may be liable for your injuries because of negligent security.
If you run a business that is likely to have trouble, or if your business is in an area that has recently seen a rise in crime or had a threat made against it, then it is your responsibility to take extra steps to ensure the safety and security of your customers. Nightclubs are filled with alcohol, and it is known that many customers consume illegal substances on the grounds. This means that even a nightclub in a nice area needs to have more security than your average business.
Perhaps the assault would not have occurred if the owner of the nightclub had hired more security for out on the street or in the parking lot. Extra lighting may have prevented the assault since it is harder to get away with a crime if everybody can see it happening.
Are These Complicated Cases?
Premises liability cases can be pretty difficult, and that’s before taking into account when injuries are caused by other customers. When a customer causes your injury, it gives the business owner a line of defense. They can argue that they were not responsible for your injury, that it was somebody else’s fault.
In the examples we used, the cases were reasonably clear. But many cases are much more complicated, and even our clear examples could prove to be difficult cases in reality.
Should I Sue the Business Owner or the Customer for My Injuries?
It is impossible to answer that question through a blog post like this. Each and every case is unique, and the details of the case are necessary to decide the best course of action. We recommend reaching out to speak to an experienced premises liability attorney. They’ll be able to provide you with advice that is tailored to your particular situation and answer all your questions like this one.