All businesses have a legal duty of care (obligation) to do everything reasonably possible to make their premises safe for all employees, visitors, and customers. It is important to understand some of the basic legal terms to guide those responsible for overseeing the safety of the premises and to prevent accidents wherever and whenever possible. These terms were derived from TheFreeDictionary’s legal dictionary.
Liability is a comprehensive legal term that describes the condition of being actually or potentially subject to a legal obligation.
Joint liability is an obligation for which more than one person or company is responsible.
Joint and several liability refers to the status of those who are responsible together as one unit as well as individually for their conduct. The person who has been harmed can institute a lawsuit and recover from any or all of the wrongdoers—but cannot receive double compensation, for instance, the full amount of recovery from each of two or more wrongdoers.
Negligence occurs when conduct falls below the standard of care established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm. Negligence can result in all types of accidents causing physical and/or property damage, but can also include business errors and miscalculations such as a sloppy land survey.
Premises can include land and the improvements on it including, a building, store, shop, apartment, or other designated structure. The exact premises may be important in determining if an outbuilding (shed, cabana, detached garage) is insured or whether a person accused of burglary has actually entered a structure. In a legal pleading, premises means “all that has hereinabove been stated”. This could include the company parking lot, all common areas, and other areas where employees, customers or visitors are free to move about.
The terms reasonable and foreseeable are two of the factors in determining liability. Although a company has a legal duty of care to protect one from harm, it doesn’t extend to all harm. The duty is to protect from harm that could reasonably happen.
A foreseeable harm is one that a sensible business knows or should know could occur due to the company’s actions or omissions. When a company’s act or omission results in a person’s injury, the courts consider it as the company’s negligence.
For example, a business understands, or should understand, that leaving ice to accumulate outside of the company’s entrance in winter could result in a person slipping and falling. The harm is foreseeable. Consequently, the failure to have the ice removed is a breach (violation) of duty of care to the person who falls.
Alternatively, let’s say all of the ice at the company’s entrance has been removed. A person returning from lunch where he consumed too much wine, trips and falls on a rubber mat outside the company resulting in injury. The person’s voluntary intoxication makes his slipping and falling unforeseeable.
Every business has a duty to protect employees, visitors and customers from reasonably foreseeable incidents that might result in harm. It isn’t reasonable for a business to protect a person from injuries resulting from the person’s voluntary intoxication.
(Please note that this information is not intended to be used in place of a visit, consultation, or advice of a legal professional.)