Written By Chris Dolan and Megan Irish
This week’s question comes from Rebeca from San Jose, who asks: Two weeks ago, I heard a loud commotion and went outside to see that a car had crashed into the corner convenience store. It went right into the glass front of the building, and only the trunk is visible from the sidewalk. Today it is all boarded up, and the store is closed. Has this ever happened before?
Unfortunately, yes, these kinds of crashes happen far more frequently than you can ever imagine, often causing injuries in addition to the apparent damage to the building. Who is responsible for these damages? The driver of the car? Surely. But is the store also responsible? Often, yes. When someone is hurt in a store front crash, they may be able to bring a claim for their injuries based on negligence and premise liability against the store.
Generally, in a negligence case, the injured plaintiff must prove the defendant has a duty, the defendant breached their duty, the breach caused the plaintiff an injury, and the plaintiff has suffered damages related to that injury. Generally, in a premise liability action, the plaintiff must show that a defendant owned, leased, or controlled the location of their injury, that the defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property, that the plaintiff was harmed, and that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm.
From the local coffee shop to the neighborhood grocery store and everything in between, cars can drive into the store and injure pedestrians, store patrons, and employees. Often the layout of the parking spaces outside the store leads to the vehicles’ intrusion into the building. When the parking spaces are placed directly in front of the store, which is perpendicular to the store, and the driver makes an error by pressing the gas instead of the brake pedal instead of coming to stop, the vehicle accelerates toward the building. A crash is imminent If the parking lot and storefront design do not have any barriers to stop the vehicle’s entrance onto the sidewalk and into the store. The crash can be minor and cause only property damage to the building, like a few broken windows, or it can be catastrophic and cause injury or even death to the pedestrians on the walkway, the patrons, or the employees inside the store.
This kind of “storefront crash” is a known risk to stores, and there are numerous ways to protect the storefront and keep patrons and pedestrians safe. For example, owners can install bollards to prevent a car from intruding into the space. A bollard is a slim, solid pillar that is seated into the ground. They are often about four to six inches in diameter and come up to about three or four feet. They are usually yellow to increase their visibility. They do not impede the flow of foot traffic and can easily be ADA-compliant. Also, placing attractive flower boxes with appropriate underpinnings across the front of a store can offer protection without impeding on a patron’s access to the store. Either of these or one of the numerous other options would protect the sidewalk area and storefront from any vehicle trying to park in the perpendicular stall that inadvertently jumps the curb and approaches the storefront.
The frequency of these types of collisions is staggering. Recently made public statistics demonstrate that the popular convenience store 7-Eleven has 1.14 store front car crashes a day, causing some personal injury or property damage. The now public data also shows repeated hits at the same stores. Some were hit three, four or five times. There is even evidence that one store was hit thirteen times! The recently released data also shows that between 2003 and 2017, there were 6,253 storefront crashes at 7-Eleven stores across the country in fifteen years. More public data about 7-Eleven shows another 1581 storefront crashes between 1991 and 1996.
These types of crashes happen. It’s a known hazard of stores with parking stalls perpendicular in the front of the store. And the store is oftentimes in the best position to prevent the injuries and damages associated with them. Hopefully, your local store will be repaired quickly, and no one inside was hurt.