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A fight breaks out in a Denny's. Is the restaurant liable?

The International Franchise Association released a report recently that got us to thinking about premises liability. We won't retrace the thought, but suffice it to say that the IFA's research shows that by the end of 2013 franchise businesses will have added jobs and units -- that is, new stores or restaurants -- at a faster rate than the general economy.

For many of these new business owners, the new restaurant or oil change shop will be their first business, and that means they need to become familiar fast with their legal duties to everyone who comes through their doors. They need to understand, drum roll please, premises liability -- just as a Denny's in Western New York did.

Before we discuss the case, though, we need to review some basic information about liability.

Who's who on the business' premises

The law recognizes three categories of individuals who visit a business: guests, invitees and trespassers. The guest is the person who has received a special, personal invitation to enter the business. If you throw a grand opening gala for your new Albany eatery, you might invite Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He would be a "guest" under the law.

Regular patrons and service people are "invitees." These are the individuals one would reasonably expect to come onto the property. "Trespassers," then, are the others, from the unlawful intruders to the guy who stops in to ask for change for the parking meter.

The difference is important, because the business owner has a higher duty of care to guests, a reasonable duty of care to invitees and a low or no duty of care to trespassers.

What are we talking about when we say "duty of care?" We'll discuss that in our next post.

Source: Huffington Post, "When Is a Business Liable for Outsider Violence on Its Premises?" Brad Reid, Sept. 13, 2013

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