Premises Liability Law: What Every Business Owner Needs to Know
Business owners have a duty and responsibility to make sure their area of business is always safe for their customers and clients. Under the Premises Liability Act, an owner, or occupier of premises, owes a duty of “reasonable care under the circumstances,” to entrants who are not trespassers, such as routine, visiting customers. When this responsibility is in question in a court of law, it is usually up to a jury to decide whether the business owner failed in their responsibility to persons or entities on their property based on a certain set of circumstances.
Often, the relationship between the defendant and plaintiff must be examined and determined to be one that falls under legal obligation of the business owner towards the plaintiff. For example, was the plaintiff a trespasser or a customer?
The Illinois Supreme Court has identified factors to help determine the existence of legal duty for the business owner. These factors include the reasonable foreseeability of injury, (For example, was the danger known to the business owner?) the likelihood of guarding against it, (Was the danger fully evident to the customer? Was it possible to alert customers/clients in time?) and the consequences of placing the burden upon the defendant (For the situation, were the business owner’s safety measures adequate?).
Our supreme court has also adopted the rule that:
A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused
to [its] invitees by a condition on the land if, but only if, [it] (a) knows
or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition,
and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and (b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and (c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.
In other words, the owner of the business has a common-law duty to an invitee to exercise ordinary care and maintenance of its property to prevent injury to those entering the premises. This includes not only having the premises in a reasonably safe condition today, but performing ongoing routine inspections to discover any new dangerous conditions and adequately alert invitees.
An invitee has the right to assume others have done their duty to give proper warning of hidden dangers (for example, wet paint) and apart from obvious dangers (for example, a downed power line near the entrance) can assume the premises are reasonably safe.
Remember that your customer/client has the right to assume that you, as the business owner, have done your duty to give proper warning of hidden dangers and provide a safe visit on the premises. Taking reasonable care of your business premises should be enough to keep your customers happy and your business out of court.