When you go into a store, you expect it to be safe. Unfortunately, not all stores live up to this expectation, leaving some visitors injured. Read on to understand the duties stores like Walmart owe to visitors and how to seek compensation if you were injured while on a business’s premises.
What Is Premises Liability?
Premises liability is a property owner’s legal responsibility to prevent accidents on their property. Business owners like Walmart owe the highest duty of responsibility to visitors. Under premises liability law, business visitors are invitees, who are people who enter the premises with the property owner’s knowledge and for mutual benefit. The duty does not extend to individuals who enter the premises after hours without permission.
A property owner must exercise care to protect invitees from known risks and inspect regularly to identify any risks. This includes any premises defects or other dangerous conditions that a reasonable inspection should uncover. One of the most common premises liability accidents at a store like Walmart is a slip and fall accident due to conditions like wet or uneven floors, icy entryways, unsafe stairs, or loose floorboards, rugs, or mats.
Premises liability accidents are unfortunately common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than 800,000 patients are hospitalized in the United States each year due to falls. One out of five of these falls results in a serious injury like broken bones or a head injury.
When Is the Property Owner Responsible?
A business owner like Walmart is responsible for onsite injuries if the injured party can demonstrate that:
- The company had actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the premises;
- The condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm;
- The company failed to exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and
- The failure to exercise reasonable care led to the victim’s injury.
The defendant will need to gather evidence of the store’s knowledge of the risk. Sufficient evidence may include proof that one of Walmart’s employees caused the harmful condition, proof that an employee saw or knew about the condition, or proof that the condition was present for long enough that someone should have fixed it.
Walmart will attempt to avoid responsibility, and may raise one or more of the following defenses:
- Obviousness: Walmart might try to avoid liability if the risk was so obvious that a warning wasn’t necessary. An invitee is required to exercise a reasonable level of awareness while on the property. Obvious dangers include things like large structures blocking a pathway.
- Assumption of risk: If Walmart has evidence that you were aware of the risk and chose to act with disregard of the risk, Walmart may not be responsible for resulting injuries. This defense is more common for things like recreational activities and much less common for retail properties like Walmart.
- Lack of knowledge: If you can’t produce sufficient evidence that Walmart had actual or constructive knowledge of the risk, they might try to avoid liability. The standard for commercial property owners, however, is high. Walmart must show that there is no reasonable way they should have known of the risk.
Work with your attorney to compile evidence of the accident scene, including any evidence of Walmart’s knowledge of the hazard.
Securing Recovery for Your Injuries
Walmart is responsible for all injuries you suffer due to their failure to maintain safe conditions at the store.
Work with your lawyer to include all costs in your damages demand, such as:
- Medical costs: Keep track of all your medical costs, including doctor’s bills, hospital stays, and prescription medication. Include these costs as well as an estimate of future medical costs for things like physical therapy in your damages demand.
- Loss of income: If your injuries force you to miss work, Walmart may be responsible for reimbursing you for your lost wages. Include these lost wages as well as estimated future lost wages and reduced earning potential in your demand.
- Emotional distress: A fall and resulting injuries can wreak havoc on your day-to-day life. These changes can result in emotional distress like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder for many victims. Work with your lawyer to include appropriate compensation for any emotional distress in your damages demand.
- Loss of enjoyment: If your injuries limit your ability to participate in any activity that was a meaningful part of your life before the accident, such as sports or music, seek appropriate compensation from Walmart for the loss.
- Punitive damages: Rather than compensating the victim for an injury, punitive damages punish the defendant for behavior that rises to the level of malice or gross negligence. Your attorney can evaluate whether Walmart’s breach of its duties may rise to the level of malice or gross negligence.
Many premises liability lawsuits against a large corporation like Walmart end in settlement rather than proceeding to trial. Your damages demand will be an important tool as you consider any settlement offers. Your lawyer will work with you to develop a case strategy based on the strength of the evidence and your recovery goals. Be sure to discuss any settlement offer with your lawyer before accepting.
An experienced slip and fall attorney will be a valuable partner as you pursue recovery against a company like Walmart. Your attorney will work with you to assess your goals, the evidence of Walmart’s liability, and the extent of your injuries. With this knowledge, they will manage communications with the defendant, draft court documents, prepare your damages demand, and evaluate any settlement offers.