A business owner’s duty to a customer - KOTA Territory News

A business owner’s duty to a customer



Gary Jensen
Beardsley, Jensen and Von Wald

A business owner's duty to a customer is that of reasonable care under all of the circumstances. 

The law considers a customer a "business invitee."  A business invitee is ‘business visitor who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings on the possessor of land."  The general rule is that the possessor of land owes an invitee or business visitor the duty of exercising reasonable or ordinary care for the benefit of the invitee's safety. 

Getting beyond the general rule can be confusing because the duty is essentially two-fold, it includes: (1) warning of concealed, dangerous conditions known to the landowner; and/or (2) to use ordinary care in the active operations of the property.  The requirement that a landowner know of the dangerous condition on his property "limits his duty to warn, but does not constrain his more general duty to keep his property reasonably safe." 

A business owner is not "an insurer" as to the safe condition of his premises; he or she owes a duty of reasonable care when the surrounding facts and circumstances, including the knowledge he or she possesses, indicate that the risk of harm was foreseeable.  The law in South Dakota, and many other states, requires "reasonable foresight, rather than prophetic vision."  What was reasonable under the circumstances?

So, for example, placing a rug on a wet tile floor inside a frequently opened door in January in Rapid City, South Dakota, involves a risk of harm that was foreseeable.  Because the risk was foreseeable, the store owner had a duty to use reasonable or ordinary care to make its premises safe for business invitees.  What do you suppose that required?  If you're interested in the answer, please see the Court's decision in Janis v. Nash Finch. Co., 2010 SD 27.

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Lawline@KOTATV.com is intended as general information on legal issues affecting us all.  This information should not be relied upon in any particular case and should never be used in lieu of consulting with an attorney.


1.      You see yet another car accident at a spot where there have been many accidents in the past and will be more accidents in the future? 


2.      You learn another person is hurt using a machine that has injured others in the past and will injure others in the future? 


3.      You watch a dangerous practice – like where a school bus parks – you know is a disaster waiting to happen?  


What should you do? 


Try to prevent the next accident, injury, and catastrophe from happening. 


How can you do that? 


Send a letter or email to those responsible – the highway department, the owner and operator of the machine, the school district - putting them on notice of the danger.


Your letter or email will either prompt a "fix" or help the next innocent victim establish liability against those who failed to act.   


Taking a few minutes to write a letter or email can have a huge impact; you can be a difference maker. 

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