Premises liability is an area of the law that concerns itself with the responsibility that a premises owner has towards its patrons. In general, a premises owner is required to maintain a clean and safe building to ensure that no customers or visitors are injured during their stay.
Premises owners aren't responsible for every injury that occurs within their walls, however, and it can often seem difficult to find the line between dangerous premises and a simple accident. Is a premises owner responsible, for example, of an instance of violence between visitors? As the following case shows us, it's a contentious issue, one that depends heavily on the situation.
A federal Court of Appeals recently approved of a case of premises liability in which a customer in a Denny's restaurant was assaulted by several other customers. In that case, the customer asked Denny's staff members to ask the patrons at another table to be quieter. Denny's staff did nothing. The woman confronted the disruptive table herself. The woman was assaulted in a resulting altercation.
The woman then filed a premises liability lawsuit against Denny's, stating that Denny's had failed in its responsibility to ensure the safety of its patrons. The lawsuit claimed that violence between patrons was a relatively common occurrence at that location at that time of the night. The plaintiff alleged that Denny's should have taken steps to prevent the altercation. The suit further claimed that in failing to act to stop the disruptive behavior of the noisy patrons, Denny's staff created a potentially dangerous situation that could reasonably be expected to erupt in violence.
Denny's filed an appeal seeking to block the lawsuit, stating that the woman had caused the violence by confronting the table itself, but the appellate court countered, saying Denny's employees should have expected the woman to confront the disruptive table when they failed to resolve the situation themselves.
The Court of Appeals then approved the lawsuit, allowing it to move forward. The issue has yet to see a final resolution and it is unclear when the case will be completed.
Source: The Huffington Post, "When Is a Business Liable for Outsider Violence on Its Premises?" Brad Reid, Sep. 13, 2013