Whether you rent or own the building in which your business resides, you are responsible for the safety of anyone who enters the property, including employees, vendors, and customers. Even trespassers have limited protection under commercial premises liability law.
Our commercial premises liability lawyers at TorkLaw can help California business and property owners prevent unwanted accidents and lawsuits from occurring. We are going to take a deeper dive into commercial premises liability laws in California and what they mean under common circumstances.
What Is Commercial Premises Liability?
Just as homeowners have a legal obligation to keep the premises safe, business owners have a duty to ensure people can enter their business without compromising their safety. When a business owner fails in this regard, it’s considered negligent.
Property owners and tenants of commercial spaces can both be sued for negligence in certain situations. The majority of property managers add clauses in rental contracts that require renters to presume complete responsibility regarding guest safety, so, even if you’re a renter, your business is responsible for costs related to a commercial premises liability lawsuit.
Victims of negligence associated with commercial property must prove that either the property owner or the business owner’s neglect caused their injuries. While owners have a duty to keep their property safe, the law does not impose an unreasonable level of care on their part. A owner is thought to be negligent if they have not maintained an adequate level of care in keeping the property free from avoidable hazards.
Types of Commercial Premises Liability Claims
Commercial premises liability claims involve a vast array of circumstances, including:
Slip and Fall Accidents
One of most common incidents leading to premises liability claims are slip-and-fall accidents. This term is used by personal injury lawyers for cases in which a business owner is accountable for an individual slipping/tripping and falling on their premises. This can happen due to such dangerous conditions as damp floors, torn carpeting, poor lighting, messy aisles, or other hazards inside the building. Injuries can also occur outside the building when visitors slip and fall outside of the building because of snow, rain, or ice build up that the owner hasn’t adequately marked or cleared away.
When a property owner does not conduct regular maintenance on the building, risks will occur. When problems develop, owners must resolve the issue as soon as possible. They also have a duty to alert customers to hazardous conditions until they are fixed.
Negligent Security Measures
If a business is in a location known for criminal activity and fails to take appropriate security measures to keep customers safe, business owners may be held liable for damages. Poor lighting, absent security guards, and an absence of other precautions can all result in security claims.
These types of claims are just the tip of the iceberg. Several other circumstances fall under the category of commercial premises liability as well. Some examples include:
- a visitor or an employee assaulting someone else;
- a piece of equipment or merchandise injuring someone;
- hazardous chemicals spilling on to surrounding properties.
Additionally, a business owner or landlord who breaches a building code regulation can be found responsible if the violation causes an accident on the premises. Simply put, business owners who don’t take preventative measures to prevent a wide range of potential accidents will inevitably be confronted with an accident claim. Not only can these claims be expensive to defend, they can also damage a business’s track record.
Who Is Responsible for California Premises Liability Claims?
As we stated above, property owners have an obligation to keep a relatively safe environment so that people who enter the property do not suffer injury. In this section, you will find details about how liability is identified depending on numerous factors.
Legal Status of Visitors
There are usually four labels that California courts use to identify the legal status of the visitor:
- Customer: a person allowed on the property for commercial reasons.
- Social visitor: a welcome visitor to the commercial property.
- Licensee: someone who enters property for his or her own purpose, like a repair person or vendor, and is present at the approval of the owner.
- Trespasser: someone who unlawfully enters one’s property without permission. In the case of trespassers, there is no implied duty that reasonable care has been made to ensure the safety of the commercial property. A few unique situations might apply in California.
Children on Residential or Commercial Property
It is also a property owner’s job to alert visitors if children aren’t authorized to be on the property. A property owner should provide warnings if she or he knows (or should know) that children are likely to be on a premises where a dangerous condition may cause injury or death.
Special Guidelines for Landlords
Special guidelines of liability may be used in cases of lessors — landlords or property managers — of the property. The basic rule holds that a lessor isn’t responsible to a renter or visitor for physical harm triggered by a condition on the commercial property. This general rule is based partly on the owner’s assumed absence of control over the property once it’s leased. While a lessor can be included in the neglect claim, commercial leases often include clauses that require renters to presume complete responsibility regarding guest safety, and indemnify the property owner. So, even if you’re a renter, your business is responsible for costs related to a commercial premises liability lawsuit.
Commercial Premises Liability Lawsuits at a Glance
In a business setting, commercial premises liability law is created to protect consumers, suppliers, and other visitors. Simply put, as a business owner, you are responsible for the security of any individual who enters your establishment, regardless of whether you own the premises or not.
Grounds for a Premises Liability Claim
In order to have grounds for a premises liability suit, an individual must demonstrate that it was triggered by a hazardous condition of which the business owner was aware. This assertion requires proof that the owner created the hazardous condition, knew it existed, and was negligent in getting it fixed. These cases frequently depend upon whether the business owner acted with care to prevent a slip and fall, and whether the customer was careless by failing to see or avoid the condition that triggered the accident.
When Both Parties Are at Fault for Commercial Premises Liability
The most commonly used argument that protects an owner in a premises liability claim is that the plaintiff was partially at fault for the injury that occurred. In order to recuperate damages in a premises liability lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that the owner’s negligence triggered the injury.
But a visitor has a duty, in many cases, to exercise reasonable care of his/her own person. When that care is not utilized appropriately, the amount of damages the plaintiff can recover might depend on the extent to which he or she caused the injury.
Every business owner should expect unanticipated hits to the bottom line, including the capacity for commercial premises liability lawsuits. And even though it is generally acknowledged that safety is essential for workers and clients alike, accidents can occur. While workers are generally covered for their injuries by workers compensation insurance, suits submitted by injured visitors can be costly.
4 Steps to Take for Protection Against Commercial Premises Liability in California
The majority of business owners are aware that they have a duty to create a safe environment for clients or customers. While slip-and-fall accidents are the primary concern, commercial premises liability encompasses other kinds of injuries for which business owners can be held responsible. Here are actions business owners can take to protect themselves:
1. Routinely Conduct Inspections
Performing inspections routinely will help you and your employees determine possible threats prior to them becoming a severe problem. Assessments should search for possibly hazardous conditions in both private offices, like offices and cubicles, and the property as a whole.
Routine examinations might be time consuming and hinder productivity, but they can assist you determine possible issues before staff members and/or customers are hurt.
2. Immediately Correct Problems
If an issue is found during an evaluation or explained to you by a staff member or client, take actions to correct the concern as quickly as possible.
Risky conditions need to be fixed right away to ensure that hazardous conditions are taken care of immediately. Implement clear policies that resolve common issues, like ice or puddles on pathways, and cleaning up spills immediately. Train employees so they know exactly what to do when the circumstance occurs.
3. Alert Others to Dangers around Them
Sometimes, unsafe conditions cannot be remedied on the spot. Certain repair work may require help from an expert, which can take some time to finish. For example, a hole in the flooring or a leak in the ceiling will take longer to fix than a spill on the flooring.
When problems can not be remedied instantly, it is essential to warn visitors of the potential threat. The most reliable method to do this is using safety barriers or conspicuous warning signs, such as the “Caution: Wet Floor” signs you have probably seen in stores and office buildings. These signs help visitors avoid injuries and supply the business with a layer of defense against lawsuit claims.
4. Obtain General Liability Insurance Coverage
Any business that engages the public on its premises, whether clients, customers, vendors, or other visitors, needs to acquire general liability insurance coverage.Taking the three actions above will minimize risk and show that you took the proper actions if a personal injury lawsuit is filed against your business. However, if the plaintiff prevails, the business owner still may need to pay a settlement for lost earnings, medical costs, pain and suffering and so on. Inadequate coverage may force a business to close due to a larger judgment amount awarded in favor of the plaintiff.
Final Thoughts & Considerations on Commercial Premises Liability
As a business owner in California, even if you rent the property where your business is located, you may be held accountable in a commercial premises liability claim, and injuries can take place at any time. At TorkLaw, we understand what business owners, commercial renters, and property managers are going through on a daily basis to keep their spaces safe for clients and employees alike. Your case or questions may have merit. Call our Legal Helpline 24/7 at 888.845.9696 for more information. You will be put in touch with the person who can help you best. Or you can send us a message here.