A shopping mall is a collection of retail stores and restaurants, either in the same building or group of connected buildings, with its own dedicated parking. Some might have outdoor spaces for sitting and eating, as well as walkways between stores or buildings.
There are several potential hazards within shopping malls that may lead to injuries or accidents. These include wet floors, cracked or uneven floors or pavement, wrinkled carpeting, malfunctioning escalators, trampling (like during “Black Friday” sales), structural problems, assaults, and theft.
While there is not a specific shopping mall law that governs questions of liability when someone is injured in a shopping mall, the doctrines of negligence and premises liability determine the standard of care a shopping mall owner or store operator owes to their customers.
What Duties Does the Mall Owner Have?
Shopping mall owners have a responsibility or a duty to maintain the premises and keep the premises safe for its customers and anyone else who may legally be at the mall, regardless of whether they purchase anything from any of the stores. Owners must keep entrances and exits clear from any unreasonable dangers and to repair any dangers that exist. If owners are negligent in their duty to maintain the premises and keep visitors safe, they might be liable for any injuries caused by the dangerous condition.
For example, if the owner of the mall has not maintained the property and the roof leaks, leading to wet floors, someone could easily slip and fall. If the owner knew about the leak and failed to repair it or adequately warn people of the danger, they will most likely be liable for any damages if a person falls and is injured.
Who is Responsible If I am Injured at a Shopping Mall?
Mall owners are not responsible for all injuries that occur on the premises. In some cases individual store owners may be held responsible if the dangerous condition or cause of the injury was inside of their store.
Mall owners are responsible for maintaining and keeping safe the entrances and exits, common areas, and parking lots. If you are injured in one of those areas the owner of the mall might be responsible for your injuries. If you are injured inside of a store then the store owner might be liable, not the mall owner.
The lease that a store owner signed allowing them to use the space in the mall might also dictate who is responsible for injuries that happen in the store. For example, a lease might include terms stating that the store owner is responsible for maintaining common areas near the entrance to their store. If that is the case, the store owner will be responsible if someone is injured because of a dangerous condition in that common area.
What If a Crime Happens to Me at the Mall?
In some cases a shopping mall owner may be found liable for not protecting people on the premises from crime. You must be able to prove that the mall owner did not exercise reasonable care or take reasonable precautions to protect potential victims of crime. One reasonable precaution that a shopping mall can take is hiring adequate security to protect the premises.
Reasonable precautions does not mean that a shopping mall owner must do anything and everything possible to prevent any type of crime on the premises. The key word is reasonable. If the mall is located in an area with a lot of crime or there have been crimes committed on the premises in the past, it is foreseeable that crime might occur at that mall. The owner should take reasonable steps to prevent it.
A victim of a crime must prove that crime committed against them was both foreseeable AND the owner of the mall did not take reasonable precautions to protect customers for the owner to be found liable for damages to the victim. For example, a plaintiff might attempt to show that the owner failed to meet its mall security duties in one or more of the following ways:
- Security guards hired by the mall were negligent in their duties. For example, they did not patrol the parking lot of common areas the way they are required to or ignored signs that a crime was being committed.
- The mall had inadequate security, or not enough guards to patrol the size of the premises.
- The parking lot did not have adequate lighting.
- Cameras used to view the premises were not operational or no one was monitoring them.
Requiring a plaintiff to show that the owner of the mall or store did not take reasonable precautions is how balance is achieved between protecting shopping centers and protecting patrons of those shopping centers. The reasonableness standard ensures that owners are only liable for the crimes that they had some ability to prevent or mitigate.
If patrons of the mall were owed a duty to be protected from all crime, whether it is foreseeable or not, and whether the owner has taken steps to prevent it or not, the financial risk of operating a shopping mall would be too high.
How Can I Prove Fault in a Shopping Mall Liability Claim?
To prove fault in a claim against a shopping mall, a plaintiff must prove the owner was negligent with evidence that:
- The owner of the mall had a duty to its patrons
- A dangerous condition existed on the premises
- The owner of the mall knew about the dangerous condition
- The owner of the mall did not remove the dangerous condition, nor did they adequate warn that the dangerous condition existed
- The plaintiff was injured
- The dangerous condition was the direct and proximate cause of the injury
- The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the injury
- The plaintiff did not contribute to their own injury
It can be helpful to use an example to illustrate how one can prove the mall owner is at fault for an injury suffered at a shopping mall.
We have already established that a shopping mall owner owes a duty to the people who enter the premises. That duty is to keep the premises safe from foreseeable risks and dangerous conditions. The plaintiff entered the mall and walked toward the escalator. As they approached the escalator the plaintiff slipped in a puddle on the floor, fell, and broke their hip. They sue the owner of the mall for damages, such as medical expenses.
The plaintiff and their attorney learn that the roof of the mall had been leaking. The owner of the mall had not fixed the leak because the cost of the repair was too expensive. The owner had been putting a “Caution! Wet Floor” sign in that location, but there was no sign there the day the plaintiff fell. The plaintiff was healthy and did nothing to contribute to the fall and subsequent injury.
In this example it is fairly clear that the owner of the mall is liable. They owed their patrons a duty to keep the premises safe from foreseeable risks. It is foreseeable that the floor would be wet when the roof has a leak. The mall owner could have warned of the risk using a sign or blocking off the area, but failed to do so. The dangerous condition and failure to warn caused the plaintiff to slip and fall. The owner was negligent and it caused the plaintiff’s injury.
Are there Limits on Shopping Mall Liability?
Shopping mall owners are only liable for injuries caused by foreseeable risks. There are many things that might happen in places like shopping malls where large groups of people gather and spend time. Owners are not responsible for keeping patrons safe from dangers that are unforeseeable.
A dangerous condition that is new and that the mall owner has yet to be notified of is not a foreseeable risk. In the example above where the patron slipped fell, the outcome of litigation would be different if the roof had never leaked before, was properly maintained, and the owner of the mall had no knowledge that there was a problem.
Furthermore, some dangerous conditions are so obvious that everyone should know to avoid them. For example, parking lots are typically known to be dangerous. Everyone should be careful when they are walking through the parking lot to get to the mall.
How Do I Sue A Shopping Mall?
If you have been injured at a shopping mall and believe the owner of the mall is responsible, you can sue the mall. You should hire a personal injury attorney to file a complaint against the owner of the shopping mall and/or the owner of the store where the injury happened. Your attorney can gather evidence and will be able to request documents, subpoena maintenance records, conduct depositions, and interview witnesses to determine the facts surrounding the dangerous condition that caused the injury.
You might be able to file a claim against other parties, depending on the nature of the injury. For example, the manufacturer of a faulty escalator or the company that provides security on a contractual basis. You might also be able to file a claim against the local government agency responsible for issuing permits or doing inspections to make sure that the building or buildings are up to code.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Shopping Mall Liability Legal Issue?
If you have been injured at a shopping mall you should contact a shopping mall injury attorney to review your case. An experienced personal injury lawyer can gather the necessary evidence to proceed with a claim and help you understand your rights as a plaintiff. Your attorney can negotiate with the other parties involved and represent you in court.