I have often had clients call and say they were injured at Wal-Mart or a similar store and believe that because they were injured, they have a personal injury claim. Usually, this is not true. For example, if you slip in liquid that another customer has just spilled, there would be no negligence on the part of the store. In order to file a negligence claim against the store, you would need to show that the store was acting improperly in some way – i.e. that the store had notice of the spilled liquid and failed to clean it up within a reasonable amount of time, or that the store did not have safety procedures which would lessen the likelihood of this type of injury. A maintenance log of aisle checking and cleaning is indicative of a safety-conscious store.
Stores are required by law to provide a safe environment for their customers. The customer is legally considered an “invitee” and the items for sale are purposefully arranged on the shelves to encourage customers to keep their eyes on the goods and not on the floor. It is likely that a shopper would not see liquid on the floor because they are looking at the shelves, and that is why the store is responsible for customer safety.
Large stores, such as Wal-Mart or Target, generally take this responsibility seriously and make it a priority to monitor their property for unsafe conditions, particularly in areas prone to being wet or slippery. Employees will check these areas regularly, say every 20 or 30 minutes, and will sign a log to show the check was completed. If you are injured in the store and the store has properly followed their maintenance schedule as shown by the log, you will have difficulty moving forward with your injury claim. Most claims of this nature would be dismissed before ever going to a jury.
On the other hand, you might have a claim if a store employee spilled the liquid and did not address the situation immediately, or if the store was not properly maintaining its site. I represented a client from South Louisiana who slipped on some wet steps at a business and injured her knee. We were able to discover that other customers had previously complained about the condition. Since the property owner knew about the wet steps and failed to take protective action, the business was liable for this defective condition.
If you slip and fall at a commercial site, the question to ask if whether the store acted “reasonably” to provide a safe environment for its customers. As long as store employees are routinely checking the property for unsafe conditions and addressing any maintenance issues within a reasonable time frame, negligence will be hard to prove.
So if you are injured at a store, ask yourself did a store employee act unreasonably? Is the store improperly maintained? If the answer is no, then you will not have a personal injury claim. The law only punishes those who are negligent.