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How To Protect Your Business From A Premises Liability Suit

Written by: Hagelgans and Veronis

Premises liability is a concern for small restaurants to large hospitality organizations. A patron may have a negligence case against the owner if they’re injured on the property.

At Hagelgans & Veronis, we get lots of questions from business leaders in the hospitality industry. Below, we share insight and explore several ways you can keep your premises safe and avoid expensive litigation.

Premises Liability and the Hospitality Industry

In Pennsylvania, a landowner is responsible for certain injuries suffered by people on the property. The hospitality industry is particularly susceptible to legal liability because of its close interactions with the public, the volume of patrons they serve, and because many hospitality businesses (hotels, restaurants, and retail) are allowed to serve alcohol to customers.

Premises liability is largely determined by the duty owed to the land entrant. The hospitality industry primarily services customers which are legally known as “invitees” or “business visitors.” These people are distinguished by their direct or indirect connection with the business or business dealings with the property owner.

Invitees are commonly referred to in most retail premises liability cases. However, invitees and business visitors are entitled to the same duty of care under Pennsylvania law. Moreover, invitees and business visitors enjoy a higher duty standard compared to other land entrants. For example, a hospitality business has a “duty to correct or warn [customers] not only of defects which are obvious or observable but also those discoverable by a proper or reasonable inspection.”

Additionally, the business owner can be held liable for physical harm caused by a condition on the land if:

  • The property owner knows or could reasonably discover a condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to an invitee
  • The property owner can reasonably expect that invitees will not discover or fail to protect themselves from the danger
  • The property owner fails to exercise reasonable care to protect invitees against the danger

Common Accidents in the Hospitality Industry

While there are several accidents that lead to premises liability litigation, the hospitality industry grapples with a few in particular.

For example, Pennsylvania’s inclement weather can lead to dangerous conditions on roads, walkways, and stairs. Slips and falls are particularly common when snow or ice is involved.

Commercial properties are required to clean and maintain their facilities. Left unattended, a wet floor is a fast way to get involved in a premises liability case.

Pennsylvania business owners are also liable for the accidental, negligent, or intentionally harmful acts of a third-party actor or animal. In this example, the duty owed to an invitee is not automatic but applied based on what a “reasonable person” would do to anticipate “reasonably foreseeable” crimes.

Here’s a real-life scenario: if a business owner receives several complaints about criminal behavior on the property but does nothing to remedy the problem, the business owner’s inaction could be deemed negligent should someone eventually be injured by the criminal.

Finally, Pennsylvania hospitality businesses can be held liable for serving intoxicated patrons. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 50 percent of drunk drivers “start their intoxicated journey at a licensed establishment.”

Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law permits a business to refuse service to a patron who appears to be intoxicated. In Pennsylvania, hospitality businesses that over-serve alcohol can be held liable if the visibly intoxicated patron leaves the establishment and causes an accident.

While the Dram Shop Law doesn’t fit perfectly into premises liability, the legal ramifications are equally significant. Moreover, patrons are more likely to suffer an accident, which could result in a legitimate premises liability claim, when they’ve had too much to drink.

How to Avoid a Premises Liability Claim

The best way to avoid a premises liability claim is to think preventatively about potential accidents.

  • Get in touch with your insurer and ask them to come out and inspect the property for potential hazards. In addition to identifying problems, your insurance agent can also recommend ways to improve potential issues.
  • Schedule monthly, weekly, and daily cleaning assignments to ensure the property is both clean and safe. Keep a detailed record of this schedule and have employees sign off on their duties. In the event of a lawsuit, this schedule could prove the property owner took reasonable steps to ensure patron safety.
  • Depending on the business and its location, it may be wise to install security cameras or employ security personnel to ward off criminal behavior and ensure the safety of invitees.
  • And if your business serves alcohol, never serve an intoxicated guest.

The premises liability lawyers at Hagelgans & Veronis are here to answer any premises questions you might have. Just give us a call at (717) 295-7009 for a free consultation.

Want more information that could save you and or your business from expensive litigation? Follow Hagelgans & Veronis on Twitter, or ‘like’ us on Facebook.

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