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Why Signs on the Door Matter

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

If you advise businesses, or run your own brick and mortar practice, you know, the signage on the door, and even in the parking lot, matters. And not just legally, from the customer's perspective, if your door says "push" but needs to be pulled, customers are likely to leave confused by why the door seems to be locked but the lights are on.

You might not be so fortunate as to get the opportunity to charge a Tennessee hardware store owner your hourly rate to explain that his "no gays allowed" sign is a really, really, really bad business decision (even if state law doesn't forbid sexual orientation discrimination). But, it's actually rather common to find signage errors at businesses, and not just because sometimes words have two meanings. And sometimes there can be some real liability.

Liability for Bad Signage

While there are certain businesses, like auto repair shops in California, that often have to deal with specific state laws about what type of signage must be posted for consumers, businesses can face all sorts of other liability due to bad signage (as most employers know thanks to those giant federal labor law posters).

From false advertising to government liability to injuries, a business's signs can cause all sorts of trouble. That door that says push instead of pull could be the cause of a broken nose or two, and some pretty easy negligence/tort liability. Need another example, just think of every single "wet floor" sign you've ever seen before.

On the other end of the spectrum, signs that are meant to inflame or cause a commotion can also lead to frivolous lawsuits, negative media attention, boycotts, and even extra attention from law enforcement.

The Americans With Disabilities Act Signage

On a federal level, the ADA imposes technical requirements on a business's signage, particularly when it is located on the front door. This is so disabled individuals can readily see whether a business's front door can accommodate them. Like a business's parking lot, if there is nowhere to deploy a wheelchair ramp, or no way for a wheelchair user to know that a front door is usable by a person in a wheelchair, that door or parking lot not only poses a risk of injuring the individual, it is discriminatory (pursuant to Congress's own definition), and can lead to an ADA lawsuit.

Simply put: signs matter, and lawyers should make sure their brick and mortar business clients know that.

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