How to Show Fault in a California Accident: Supermarkets, Shopping Centers, and other Businesses

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Determining and showing that a business such as a supermarket, shopping center, restaurant or other business was at fault in a California accident involves application of California “premises liability” rules. Premises liability rules in California require an injured party to show at least three things. First, it must be shown that the business owner, proprietor, or commercial landlord had control of the premises and a resulting duty to act with reasonable care to keep the premises reasonably safe. Then, it must be shown that the person in control knew of the dangerous condition and failed to either warn the public or make the danger safe. 

California Accident Liability and Control or Ownership of the Premises

The person in control of the premises has a responsibility to act with a certain amount of care, called reasonable care or ordinary care, to keep the premises safe for customers. The party who controls the premises is often either the owner or a business that is in possession and control of the premises through a lease. It should be noted that when a California accident occurs as the result of the action or inaction of an employee, through a doctrine called “vicarious liability,” the business owner or business itself is responsible if the employee acted (or failed to act) as part of their business-related duties. Also, if an employee has knowledge of a danger on the premises, the business is deemed to have that knowledge as well, since knowledge of employees is assumed to be shared by the business. In other words, the business owner or manager are deemed to have knowledge of anything known by any employee.

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Premises Liability and Fault in California Accidents: Showing the Proprietor Knew About the Danger

The main consideration in showing that a proprietor is liable under the law in California accidents concerns whether the proprietor knew that there was a dangerous condition present. This means that an injured party in an accident in California will generally need to show that the business knew about the dangerous condition that caused the injury, such as in the case of a wet floor. However, it’s also possible to show that a business is liable based on what is called “constructive notice.” Constructive notice essentially means that the proprietor should have known about the dangerous condition and that they would have known had they been paying attention. Constructive notice assumes that a reasonable business owner/proprietor is responsible to pay reasonable attention to the environment on the property.

To show actual knowledge of a dangerous condition that caused an accident in California, the injured party must show that the proprietor either created the hazard or was somehow informed about the hazard and failed to correct it. A business proprietor will be held responsible for actions taken by employees as part of their jobs, and will be assumed to have knowledge of anything known by employees. For example, to show that the business had knowledge of items stacked precariously or too-high on shelves, it would probably be enough to show that an employee placed the items there. Another alternative might be finding a witness who warned the business owner of the danger. 

To show that the proprietor had constructive knowledge, the injured party would need to show that the danger was present for a long enough time that a reasonable proprietor would have known about it, either by conducting reasonably frequent inspections or by being generally more attentive. How frequent the inspections should be conducted depends on the likelihood of the occurrence of the danger; for example, in a business where spills are common such as in a restaurant or supermarket, a reasonable proprietor may need to exercise greater precautions to prevent spills.

Failure to Warn or Failure to Make the Danger Safe in California Accidents

In a case where someone is injured in a California accident after having entered onto a business property, in addition to showing that the proprietor had knowledge of the danger, it must also be shown that the proprietor failed to either sufficiently warn the public of the danger or failed to make the dangerous condition safe. Warning customers might include, for example, placing “Wet Floor” signs in conspicuous locations where a floor is wet, or cordoning off work zones or tripping hazards such as holes in a sidewalk. In making a danger safe in order to prevent accidents in California, a proprieter is required to remove hazards or slippery materials that might cause customers to trip or slip and fall. 

If you have been injured in a California accident in a business such as a store, shopping mall, restaurant, or supermarket, it’s critical that you contact a California accident lawyer as soon as possible. California has specific rules regarding liability of businesses for accidents involving customers, and California accident lawyers are generally well-versed in these rules and the proper steps to take to ensure you are compensated for your injury and damages. You should also be aware that there are limits on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit in California accident cases, so it’s best that you don’t delay in taking action if you believe your injuries are the result of the negligence of a business in California. 

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