Can I Sue Convenience Stores or Gas Stations?
By Steven J. Ellison, Esq. | Legally reviewed by Bridget Molitor, J.D. | Last reviewed April 19, 2022
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Yes, you may be able to sue a gas station convenience store for any number of reasons. These can include slipping on a wet floor, getting food poisoning, or being mugged on the premises. Most claims against a convenience store would be based on state negligence law.
Where you bring your claim depends on what happened to you. If your injuries are substantial and you have big medical bills, an experienced personal injury attorney could advise you about your rights and represent you in court. But if you weren't hurt that badly, you may be able to bring your claim on your own in small claims court.
Convenience Stores Are Everywhere
In the United States, there are more than 150,000 convenience stores. They conduct 165 million transactions a day. That's one per day for every two Americans. Annual sales at U.S. convenience stores approach $650 billion. That's more than the gross domestic product of Taiwan.
Fast-food restaurants and gas station convenience stores also team up to buy or lease property and operate next to each other. According to the Wall Street Journal, pairing up saves money and lures more customers inside. For example, Amoco and McDonald's have an alliance, and other franchises (including KFC, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy's) have followed suit.
Where there are people, however, there can be problems.
You Can Be Hurt at a Gas Station Convenience Store
Suppose you fill up your tank at a gas station. There's a McDonald's inside. You're hungry, so you decide to grab a Happy Meal for take-out. As you go to fill your drink cup, you slip on some melted ice on the floor and fall, breaking your arm and getting a concussion. When you come to, you are livid. And in a fair amount of pain.
This slip-and-fall example illustrates just one of the ways you can be injured while at a gas station convenience store. Others include the following:
- You could get food poisoning from either packaged or prepared food.
- You may be injured by a dangerous foreign object in your food.
- You could be a victim of a crime while in the parking lot or in the store.
- You could get rear-ended while in the drive-through.
Any one of these experiences could be highly distressing. If something like this happened to you, you may be considering filing a lawsuit against the store. Well, you may have a claim.
Let's start at the top. If you want to sue someone, you have to have a claim. As varied as the reasons can be for your lawsuit, virtually all of the possibilities set out above would be brought under state negligence law.
Negligence is defined as conduct that falls below the standard of care required by the law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm. To show negligence, you generally need to prove four elements:
- A duty of care
- Breach of that duty
The first element of a negligence claim is duty. A duty arises when the law recognizes a relationship between two parties that requires them to act in a certain manner. Put simply, you owe a legal duty when the law says you do.
A judge decides in any given situation whether a duty of care exists. They make this determination based on the circumstances and what any similar court cases may have said about it.
Although the factors vary from state to state, courts typically consider the following:
- The foreseeability of the harm
- The degree of certainty that you suffered an injury
- The closeness of the connection between the challenged conduct and your injury
- The moral blame attached to the conduct
- The policy of deterring future similar harm
- The burden of bearing the duty
- The benefit to the community of recognizing a duty to act in a particular situation.
The second element is breach of that duty. Someone breaches a duty of care if they fail to act as a “reasonably prudent person" in the same or similar circumstances.
The term “reasonably prudent person" defines the legal standard. It represents how an average person would responsibly act in a certain situation. If the average person could have foreseen that someone might be hurt as a result of the challenged actions, those actions will likely be found to constitute a breach of duty. The breach issue is resolved by the jury, not a judge.
The third element is causation. This element requires a specific link between the breach of duty and the next element, damages. There are two parts to causation.
One is direct cause, or cause-in-fact. A breach is a direct cause if your injuries would not have occurred but for the breach. This can be seen as links in a chain. If you can connect all the links between the breach and your injuries, no matter how remote, then you can show direct cause.
Another aspect of causation is proximate cause. Proximate cause requires that the damages resulting from the breach must be reasonably foreseeable.
Let's look at an example. Suppose you are speeding down the street. You run a red light and slam into another car. Your speeding and failure to stop at the light (breach of duty) is the proximate cause of the accident because it is reasonably foreseeable that running a stoplight will result in a crash.
Your getting in your car is a direct cause of the accident, because but for your leaving the house, you would not have crashed into the other car. But it's not a proximate cause, because it is not reasonably foreseeable that getting into your car will inevitably result in a collision. In other words, the connection between the negligence and the damages is too remote.
The fourth element is damages. Damages are moneys paid to someone to compensate them for their losses. Damages in a negligence case can include, among other things, the following:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Costs to repair or replace damaged property
In rare cases, you may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are not intended to compensate the injured party. They are intended to punish a wrongdoer for outrageous behavior and deter others from similar conduct in the future.
Proving your negligence claim requires evidence. Evidence establishes whether a fact at issue in the case is true or not. To be admissible, evidence must tend to make the fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence. In other words, it must be relevant.
A court has the power to exclude even relevant evidence if its value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion, delay, or if it is duplicative of other evidence.
If you plan on suing a service station convenience store, you will want to gather the following types of evidence:
- Photos of the scene
- The contact information for any witnesses
- The names of any store employees present
- Copies of any incident or police reports
- Copies of your medical records and bills that prove the cost of your injuries
- Any employment records that show the time you missed from work
A personal injury lawyer can help you gather, go through, and evaluate your evidence to see whether you have a solid case against the store. If your injuries are significant and your medical bills are substantial, your lawyer can represent you in a lawsuit.
Small Claims Court
But not every case involves thousands of dollars. Small claims courts exist to handle claims that fall below an amount set by each state's laws. That amount varies, but it can be as low as $2,500 and as high as $25,000, depending on where you are.
The typical process is straightforward.
- You pay a filing fee to present your case and file a written complaint
- The party you sue pays a filing fee and files a response
- You try to work out an agreement between the two of you
- If you can't, a court holds a hearing at which each side presents evidence and makes arguments
- You get a court ruling
You can handle many small claims matters on your own (and some states won't let you be represented by a lawyer in small claims court). Bringing your case in small claims court saves you the time and expense of a full court trial.
Don't Delay in Suing a Gas Station Convenience Store
Negligence cases must be brought within a particular amount of time or else you lose the right to sue. The statute of limitations, which sets this time period, varies from state to state. Make sure you consult a local personal injury attorney soon after you are injured so that you can bring a claim if you want to.
Contact a qualified attorney to help you navigate the challenges presented by litigation.