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If someone falls outside your business, are you liable?

If you lease a store or other business and someone trips and falls outside the building, are you legally responsible?

That often depends on what’s in your lease – so this is something you may want to think carefully about when you negotiate.

This issue came up recently when a woman named Sabena Beriy fell on what she claimed was a poorly maintained curb outside a P.F. Chang’s China Bistro restaurant. P.F. Chang’s had leased the property from a landlord as part of a larger development. The lease said that P.F. Chang’s was responsible for any injuries on its “premises,” and that the landlord was responsible for any injuries that occurred outside of those premises.

P.F. Chang’s claimed that Sabena’s fall occurred in the common area of the development, not in its restaurant. It also claimed that the landlord was responsible under the lease for designing and maintaining the parking areas, driveways and curbs.

But the Florida Court of Appeals sided with the landlord.

According to the court, the area in front of the restaurant wasn’t “common,” but was exclusively for P.F. Chang’s use and was part of P.F. Chang’s “premises.” Also, while the landlord was supposed to build and maintain the curb, the lease said that any such improvements on exclusive-use areas were part of P.F. Chang’s “premises.”

If you’re a commercial tenant, it’s important to know the exact areas for which you have legal responsibility, especially so that you can make sure your liability insurance covers all your risks.

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