California retail store accident claims can be difficult to prove. What is California law on the duty to inspect property and prevent injury? When a mishap on commercial property such as a slip and fall, trip and fall, collapse of shelving or falling merchandise, or collision with a forklift or other equipment occurs, is the retailer responsible for resulting bodily harm caused by this calamity?
Let’s face it, whether you live in San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside or San Bernardino County, we all, at one time or another, shop at one of the large national retail chain stores like Home Depot, Lowes Hardware, Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, or even a grocery chain like Ralphs, Vons or Food-4-Less. These retailers, for the most part, have reasonable inspection and maintenance policies that keep the store in a fairly safe condition. However, to err is human and there are times when policies are flawed or not followed by employees and even managers and mishaps occur. These can involve a slippery substance being left on the floor for too long, improper use of cleaning products, stacking inventory too high or in a way that becomes unstable, leaving carts or boxes in the aisle or walkway, thereby creating a tripping hazard, or not providing proper assistance to customers in retrieving items from shelves. When any of these scenarios play out, it can result in customers or patrons falling down and breaking bones or injuring their neck or back, lacerating their skin on protruding, sharp objects, being struck in the head and suffering concussions or other trauma and any number of other ordeals.
Laws of the State of California on Unsafe Conditions of Commercial Property
- Negligent Maintenance of Property Defined: A store owner is deemed to have engage in “negligent maintenance of property” if there was a condition on their premises that created an undue risk of harm, the business operator knew about it or could have known about it if they had used reasonable care, and the proprietor failed to repair the condition, protect against harm caused by the dangerous state of the property, AND fails to warn the public about he danger. California Civil Jury Instruction, 1003.
- How Do You Decide When a Business Owner “Should Have Known” About A Dangerous Situation? In most cases, Cal. tort law requires proving that the condition which caused injury existed long enough that the retail establishment had sufficient time to discover it had they used “reasonable care”. California Civil Jury Instruction, 1011. However, there are two caveats to this rule as follows:
- Duty to Conduct Reasonable Inspections: In the California appellate decision of Ortega v. K-Mart Corp. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1200, the CA Courts made the following ruling:
“Plaintiffs may demonstrate the storekeeper had constructive notice of the dangerous condition if they can show that the site had not been inspected within a reasonable period of time so that a person exercising due care would have discovered and corrected the hazard. In other words, if the plaintiffs can show an inspection was not made within a particular period of time prior to an accident, they may raise an inference the condition did exist long enough for the owner to have discovered it.”
2. Creation of the Dangerous Condition By the Shopkeeper Presumes Notice: California law has further established that, “if the condition which caused the risk of harm” was created by a store owner OR their employee, this it “MUST” be concluded that the owner knew of the dangerous state of the premises. California Civil Jury Instruction 1012.
The Role of the Personal Injury Attorney in Establishing A Right Compensation In Retail Store Accident Claims
Based upon the laws cited above, a person shopping in Southern California including Los Angeles would be entitled to be compensated by the store owner or their insurance company if the management or employees of a big box store like Home Depot either: (a) had a property danger that existed for long enough to fix it before someone got hurt; (b) Failed to inspect to know that such a danger existed; or (c) created the condition by such things as placement of items in aisles, stacking boxes too high, or using improper techniques in the maintenance of their trade or business. The problem is that when someone gets hurt at a store, there is an immediate attempt to do a “cover up”. Often, reports are taken and claimed to be “internal” or “proprietary”, video tape footage gets erased within a short time loop, witnesses are attempted to be kept “confidential” and many other tactics are used to avoid discovery of the truth. It takes an aggressive and qualified injury lawyer to get to the heart of the matter through the legal discovery process. This is often the only way that liability can be proven and justice can be served.