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Do store owners have an obligation to warn customers?

As simple as shopping at a retail store may be, there are often behind-the-scenes considerations of which the average shopper may be unaware; not the least of these is the store owner’s concern about shopper safety. In Maryland, a conscientious store owner will satisfy any duty owed to you by meeting that standard of care required by the nature of your visit.

If you enter a store, the nature of your visit may determine the extent to which the store owner or occupant of the premises will be concerned about liability for any injury to you in the unlikely event of an accident. If a retail clothing outlet, which holds itself out as providing discounted clothing to the public, operates during normal business, as a shopper you may expect them to provide you with information about any dangerous sections or features within the shopping area of the store. You may notice signs that warn of certain areas that are off-limits to customers and for employees only. In such a circumstance, you are invited to enter the shopping area of the store for the purpose of shopping at the retail clothing outlet, but you are not invited to the employee-only area and your presence there would  change the duty owed.

If you enter a retail clothing outlet as a salesman for the sole purpose of attempting to sell a new type of clothing hanger, for example, the retail clothing outlet’s consent to your remaining on the premises may not give rise to the same standard of care as to a shopper. You may be granted a particular license to be on the property but any duty owed to you will likely be different than to a shopper.

Finally, perhaps you enter a store during an impermissible time or through an impermissible entrance. The store owner’s duty to you is quite limited. The owner cannot set up a trap for the purpose of injuring you but, since you are not there at the owner’s invitation or by grant of a license, you enter the premises at your own risk.

Many questions can arise in connection with the duties owed by owners to individuals who enter a their premises. FindLaw addresses several of these in question and answer format.

This information is provided for educational purposes, and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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