Responsibility of Business Owners to Warn of Dangers

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We are used to thinking that business owners must warn for all conditions and activities and that if someone slips and falls, or is otherwise injured at a business, the business or land owner will be held liable. That is not always the case. It depends.

The law imposes a duty of “reasonable case” upon a business owner to inspect or repair his premises and maintain it in a reasonably safe condition for use by customers and clients. This does not mean, however, that a business owner must guarantee the safety of the premises. In fact, a business owner does not have to protect customers or clients from known hazards or from hazards that are apparent upon ordinary observation. For this reason, the following warning sign would not be necessary to avoid liability for any injuries sustained if someone decided to drink the toilet water at a business:

“Recycled flush water unsafe for drinking.”

But, the reason for such warnings is that Minnesota courts have said that even though a danger might be obvious, legal liability can still be imposed if a business owner should anticipate the harm despite it being obvious. Where does leave a business owner? In the position of warning about everything, from wet floors and low ceilings to icy sidewalks.

If the business owner chooses not to warn about conditions, then he should take active steps to monitor for unsafe conditions and take active steps to rectify a dangerous condition when one exists. Because even if a business owner did not have actual knowledge that a dangerous condition such as a slippery floor existed, that knowledge can be imputed to the business owner. In other words, the business owner should have known through reasonable care, such as regular cleaning and monitoring, that the dangerous condition existed.

What does this mean to you? It means training and enforcing employees and supervisors to regularly check the conditions of your business to make sure that nothing exists that could result in an injury. Depending on the nature and location of your business, this might entail sanding the sidewalks after a snow storm, checking the rugs to make sure they aren’t loose, or making sure that the boxes of new merchandise are not blocking the aisles where customers can trip over them.

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