The law generally requires that persons use reasonable care to avoid injuring other persons. The law also generally requires property owners to use reasonable care in maintaining their properties so as to avoid injuring other persons.
In many situations, it’s entirely foreseeable that people will walk onto land belonging to someone else. And in some situations, landowners specifically invite people to walk over their land. For example, some owners or tenants of commercial properties pay great sums of advertising money for the purpose of specifically inviting people to come onto their land. This happens every time a potential customer responds to an advertisement and makes a trip to the store. We’ve all become so used to going to the store that we often don’t even think of the store as being on land belonging to someone else. But it’s true. Without an invitation to enter onto private land, and without such land being made generally accessible to the public, we could all be liable for trespass. But it’s the very act of going onto the land of another than makes most retail sales possible. (Granted – retail purchases through the internet and mail order are exceptions.)
When property owners invite people onto their land, special problems can arise. For example, special duties of care can arise between landowners and their guests, customers, or “invitees.” Customers can be injured on store premises, and when that happens, a lawsuit can result. If a landowner, or a store operator, doesn’t use reasonable care, then such landowner and/or store operator may be liable for a customer’s injuries.
The types of injuries that can happen to customers are too numerous to list. But some are fairly unusual. For example, one of the more unusual examples I’ve seen is the “Goose” case, which occurred in 2006 in Indiana.
According to Court records, a grandmother and her granddaughter were enjoying a shopping trip to the mall. The mall had outdoor sidewalks that provided access to many of the store entrances. As this grandmother and granddaughter were approaching a store entrance on one of these outdoor sidewalks, a Canadian goose attacked the grandmother. The Court opinion described the grandmother’s plight as follows: “The goose landed on her head, forcing her into a brick wall and then onto the sidewalk. The attack continued until passersby assisted.” The case is reported at (2006) 98 N.E. 2d 579.
You just never know what’s going to happen on a shopping trip. This was a bad day for grandma.
The Court opinion does not specify the kinds of injuries received by the grandmother. But she apparently received some kind of injuries because she filed suit against the owner of the mall and also against the store she was heading to. The mall owner objected to grandma’s claims because the mall owner claimed to have no ownership of the sidewalk and no obligation to maintain it. After reviewing the relevant facts, the court agreed and dismissed the grandmother’s case against the mall owner. The court didn’t specifically discuss the liability of the store owner, but the Court did find that the store owner owned the sidewalk and was responsible for maintaining it. Based on the facts stated by the Court, it appears that the store owner could be liable to the grandmother for her injuries if the Court determined that the store owner did not use appropriate care in maintaining its sidewalk.
Liability issues involving property owners can be tricky. Persons with questions regarding liability of store owners or landowners do well to seek professional legal counsel.