Store owners are responsible for more than just making sure their business is earning a profit. They are also responsible for the safety and wellbeing of their customers and other guests. The duty of care owed to a person on the property will depend on whether they are an invitee, licensee or trespasser:
- Invitee: When a customer walks into a store, that person is considered an invitee of the business, as they have been invited there to conduct a financial transaction (e.g., spend money on a product) for their own benefit, as well as the benefit of the store owner. Therefore, they are owed the highest level of care. However, this does not mean that the store owner must go above and beyond to make sure the customer is safe. It just means that the store owner must take reasonable steps to ensure that customer is safe while on store premises.
- Licensee: Licensees, often social guests, are people who have been given permission to enter the premises, but are there for their own benefit, as opposed to the benefit of the store owner. In Massachusetts, licensees are owed the same reasonable duty of care that invitees are owed.
- Trespasser: Trespassers have not been given permission to enter the premises and therefore have entered the premises unlawfully. As a result, the store owner only owes them a minimal duty of care and may be held liable for injuries only if there is an unusually dangerous condition on the property.
How do courts determine liability?
Generally, only business invitees and licensees can recover damages for injuries they suffer on a store owner’s property. They can recover these damages by filing a personal injury claim against the store owner based on negligence. To determine whether he property owner breached the duty owed to a business invitee or license, the court will have to determine:
- Whether store owner knew or should have known of the hazard/dangerous condition on the premises that caused the injury.
- Whether the owner failed to conduct a reasonable inspection to discover the hazard, failed to take reasonable action to remedy the issue, or failed to warn of the hazard.
- Whether the dangerous condition/hazard on the premises caused the invitee/licensee injury.
Reasonable steps to fix the issue my include proper maintenance of equipment, installation of safety features, making timely repairs, and keeping the property clean.
If you were injured while legally on store property, you may have a valid claim for compensation. You will have three years from the date of your injury to file your claim in Massachusetts.