Any business owes a general duty of care to the public visiting its premises. If damage, such as injury, is caused to a visitor while on the premises the business may be held liable for causing the damage - if it happens as a result of the business's negligence and breach of its duty of care, the business could be negligent if it realized, or should have realized, there was a real risk that could cause accident or harm but failed to act to reduce that risk. This same legal theory applies to, not only personal injury cases, but those involving sexual harassment, workman's compensation, fraud, and other claims.
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This causal requirement also depends upon how a reasonable person would have acted. This means that if the risk was small and the possibility of it causing injury, remote, then the business may not be held libel, as long as it can show that 'not acting' was also a reasonable course.The trick here is did the business act reasonably and not negligently.
If the business is a tenant of the premises, than the lease should make clear which of the areas used by visitors is the responsibility of the tenant to maintain and care for. Risks can not be eliminated, but adopting a commonsense approach will help in reducing the risk of claims. Instruct staff to report problems and to ensure that the public is warned of any dangers which cannot be immediately removed.
Finally, don't panic! If a claim is received, proving negligence isn't always straight-forward and a claim may even be seen as opportunistic. It could also be made against the wrong party if the terms of the lease haven't yet been checked.
Claims can be for Workman's Comp, Sexual Harassment, Bodily Injury, Fraud, just to name a few that any business may have to contend with. Be prepared and don't forget about this most important business risk.
Jim Lavorato, Principal
Fund-House Ventures, LLC