Restaurant owners are responsible for keeping properties safe for those who eat and drink there, or providing a warning if they cannot keep the area safe. They can be held responsible for injuries in the dining area as well as the parking lot. The most common injuries sustained in restaurants are slip and fall accidents on uneven pavement just outside the restaurant, poorly lit parking lots, or spilled food that is not cleaned.
Length of Time
A court will likely consider how long a hazard existed on the premises to determine whether the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition.
Spills from food and beverages are particularly likely to occur at a restaurant. If a patron is hurt because he or she slips on food or drink, he or she will need to show that the restaurant created the hazard, that the restaurant knew of the hazard, or that the restaurant should have known of the hazard. To prove the third situation, most plaintiffs must show how long the food or drink was spilled there without being cleaned up. The longer the food or drink is present in the location without being cleaned up, the more likely it is that a jury will determine the restaurant was negligent.
Restaurants can also be the site of negligent security, dangerous property conditions, or dram shop law violations. For example, a restaurant with a history of drunken and criminal bar brawls could be held liable when a drunken patron assaults another patron because a bartender did not stop serving an obviously drunk and belligerent patron. Or, if there is inadequate lighting in a restaurant parking lot where multiple rapes have occurred, and the restaurant had neither issued warnings nor hired security, it may be held liable for another rape.
When a restaurant patron is hurt by a dangerous condition within the restaurant or just outside, he or she can hold the restaurant liable for injuries. Generally the patron will have to show duty, breach of duty, and actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, causation, and damages.
The highest level of care is owed to invitees or customers. However, other visitors who are on the premises for a business or public purpose are also owed a duty of care. In some jurisdictions, the court will also look at the visitor's behavior. Visitors have a duty to act with reasonable care while in a restaurant. For example, if a visitor doesn't pay attention to a waitress' warning and slips on spilled food, he or she may be considered comparatively negligent. The individual’s recovery will be reduced in proportion to his or her fault.
The Mode of Operation Doctrine
The mode of operation doctrine states that a plaintiff need not prove actual or constructive knowledge of a danger if the defendant’s mode of operation (such as allowing customers to serve themselves) created a substantial, foreseeable risk of harm.
Certain jurisdictions have adopted the "mode of operation" doctrine in retail store premises liability cases. This doctrine does not require the plaintiff to prove actual or constructive notice. Instead, it allows a retailer to be held responsible when its mode of operation creates a substantial foreseeable risk of harm to customers. It is commonly applied to self-service situations. Certain courts have declined to extend this doctrine to sit-down restaurants, but some courts permit the doctrine to be used when the restaurant is a self-service establishment in which customers perform tasks usually performed by employees.
If you were injured in a restaurant due to a slip and fall or another dangerous condition, you may be able to recover damages from the restaurant owner. Damages can be economic or noneconomic. Economic damages include any damages that involve tangible, documented losses, such as lost income, medical bills, and out-of-pocket expenses. Noneconomic damages include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment.