First Place Scholarship Essay

First Place – Dennis Thomas Scanlon

Dennis Thomas Scanlon

  • 23 years old
  • Marcellus, New York

I’m attending Syracuse University College of Law in the fall of 2016 as a 1L, where I anticipate on pursuing a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) while focusing on Disability Law and Policy. I have a tremendous passion for helping individuals in disadvantaged and challenging situations, so pursuing a career in Disability Law, where I will have an opportunity to fulfill this passion, seems awfully fitting.

The Responsibilities That Business Owners Have To Keep Customers Safe While They Are On The Business’ Premises From A Legal Perspective.

From the smallest towns to the largest cities throughout the United States, business owners can be found opening their doors to the public for the first time. The reality is, as soon as they turn the lock on the front door, they simultaneously open themselves up to significant amounts of liabilities and risks, as well. The law regarding premises liability varies from state to state, but its intention is to hold property owners accountable for accidents and injuries that individuals sustain while on their property. It is imperative, therefore, that business owners are cognizant of how they can limit their exposure to such risks. Since I’m writing from New York, I will bear the New York legal system in mind as I discuss the responsibilities that business owners have to ensure customer safety while they’re on the business’ premises from a legal perspective.

Business owners can potentially be found liable in a wide variety of scenarios, ranging from a customer slipping and falling on a puddle in a grocery store, to failing to protect a patron from foreseeable harm caused by the criminal conduct of others while they are on the premises. According to the US LAW Network, Inc., in the State of New York Retail Compendium of Law, in order “[t]o establish a prima facie case of negligence in a premises liability action…a plaintiff must demonstrate either that the landowner created the dangerous or defective condition which caused the accident, or that the landowner had actual or constructive notice of the condition.”1 Accordingly, there are a number of elements of a cause of action of negligence.

One such element is whether a dangerous condition was created. That is, “[l]iability may be imposed where the property owner or occupant actually creates the dangerous condition that led to the plaintiff’s injuries.”2 For example, if a store owner neglects to clean up a bucket of water that she spilled and someone slips and is injured as a result, she can be found liable. Had the property owner not spilled the bucket of water that created the dangerous condition, this incident would have never come to fruition.

Another element is “actual notice,” where “liability for a dangerous condition may be imposed where there is evidence that the property owner was aware of the dangerous condition.”3 An example of this could be if a customer walking up the steps of a business falls through the step because the business owner refused to fix the step. The logic that justifies this course of action is that the business owner knew of the broken step and the potential danger it represented, yet she still refused to fix it. Lastly, an additional element is “constructive notice,” which involves situations where a visible and apparent defect exists “for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident [and where] the defendant should…have discovered it and taken remedial action.”4 An example of this could be if a business owner fails to de-ice the entryway for days upon days, even though the temperatures have been below freezing and there has been a great deal of precipitation. A reasonable business owner in this scenario should have realized that the combination of precipitation and cold temperatures for an extended period of time would have formed ice. If after multiple days a customer finally slips as a result of failing to de-ice the entryway, the business owner may be found liable since its reasonable to assume that they should have known of the issue and they had more than enough time to address the issue.

If a business owner opens her doors to the public, she owes them an obligation to maintain her premises in a safe manner; a customer should be able to visit a business and expect to leave in the same condition as they entered, that is, unharmed and uninjured. As convoluted as the above-mentioned responsibilities may seem, they are really straightforward: as a business owner, you need to exercise caution and use common sense in your operations, so as to prevent any issues from arising. If there is even the slightest reasonable risk that someone could get hurt or sustain an injury on your premises, you need to prevent it. Most of the aforementioned examples included business owners who were negligent in their duties because they failed to reasonably ensure the safety of their customers. As a business owner, make sure that once you finally open your doors to the public that you simultaneously close yourself off from all the liabilities and risks that come with doing so. From a legal perspective, you can accomplish this by refraining from creating dangerous conditions; fixing dangerous conditions, if the owner is aware of such dangerous conditions; and remediating apparent and visible defects within a reasonable amount of time as is necessary to realize such defects.

1 Alweis, Kenneth M., Stefan A. Borovina, and Goldberg Segalla LLP, US LAW Network, Inc., //

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

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