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What is a storeowner's duty of care to customers?

In a situation where a customer slips and falls while on the premises of a retail store, and the fall results in compensable injury, the possibility for the victim to file a premises liability lawsuit against the storeowner exists. But to prove his or her case, what standard of care to ensuring the safety of its patrons does the plaintiff need to establish on the part of the store owner?

A general standard of negligence holds a person responsible if he or she knows or should know that harm could foreseeably come to another person based on his or her acts or omissions. But according to how courts interpret California law, this is not the appropriate standard to use in store slip-and-fall cases.

Instead, in California the plaintiff in a premises liability lawsuit must prove that the store owner had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition on the property – meaning, if the store owner was actually unaware of that condition, then the ordinary negligence "should have known" standard does not apply. The reason behind this somewhat tighter standard of proving negligence is that without the requirement of at least constructive notice on the part of the store owner, that store owner would for all practical purposes become little more than an insurer for injured patrons on a strict liability basis.

While the notice requirement in store-related premises liability cases may make proving such cases more complicated that does not mean that they cannot be proven. An experienced premises liability personal injury attorney will know what questions to ask and what information to look for – and how to get it – so that if even constructive notice existed on the part of the store owner it can be discovered.

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