Legal Issues When Someone Gets Hurt At Your Place of Business

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What happens if a customer trips and falls in your shop?  

What happens if you serve alcohol to a customer who then gets behind the wheel and is involved in an accident?

What happens if an employee is injured on the job?

Would a court uphold the waiver you made a customer sign?

Being a business owner means you have an obligation to ensure your premises are safe for your employees and customers.   Under the Occupiers Liability Act, [RSBC] c.  337, your duty extends to the condition of your premises, the activities that take place on your premises, and the conduct of third parties on your premises.  This means that aside from worrying about sales, profits, and services, you also have to worry about safety.

WorksafeBC handles situations involving injured workers.  Workers in BC do not generally have a right to sue their employer for common injuries that occur on the job.  The workers compensation scheme, which you pay for as an employer, pays out the claims of these injured workers.  This system protects you from the headache of litigation when it comes to injured employees.

This system does not apply to your customers.  Your customers can sue you if they are hurt because of your business.   Hopefully, you have liability insurance that protects you from this financial risk.   This insurance may also protect you from third parties who never stepped foot in your business but were hurt as a result of your activities.  For example, if you own a pub and your staff overserve a customer who injures someone else with their car, your insurance may also apply to the claims from that third party.

You should not try to limit your liability on your own without seeking legal advice.  You might think making customers sign waivers alleviates your obligation.  The truth is that in order for these waivers to be upheld as enforceable, several factors have to be present.  These considerations include what is actually written on the waiver and the circumstances around how the waiver was signed.  Because many business owners do not know about these factors, most waivers are not worth the paper they are written are.

All of these legal issues do not mean you’re automatically responsible for everything that happens on your premises.  Someone who gets hurt may be contributorily negligent for their injury.  This means they are partly authors of their own misfortune and you are only responsible for your portion of fault.    You also may have taken all the reasonable precautions expected of a business owner and an accident might still happen.  The injured person must still prove that you failed to do something you should have done to ensure your business was safe.

If you’re a new business owner, you should speak to an insurance provider about the risks that are inherent in your business.  There may be situations that you did not even think of.   You should also read through the insurance policy that you purchased to make sure you understand what you have to do when an incident occurs.  There are often time limits for you to file a report to your insurance company.

Legal issues matter even though no business owner has the time to worry about things that haven’t happened.  Having to pay out huge injury claims can seriously hinder your bottom line.  Make sure you business is protected so it can continue to prosper!

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