Ask LH: Is It My Fault My Kid Knocked Over That Store Display?

Hi, A friend of mine's child recently knocked over some stock on display outside a store and broke it. The stock was fragile, and was placed outside of the store on the footpath on a very rickety table. The store owner promptly came out and demanded my friend pay for the broken stock. I would think that the store owner was partly to blame due to poor placement of his display stock. Does my friend have any rights here? (And yes, this really is about my friend, it didn't happen to me!) Thanks, Broken China

Broken crockery picture from Shutterstock

Dear BC,

Store owners are allowed to display goods on the footpath so long as they have received approval from council and don't obstruct pedestrians. In the likely event that the trader followed the proper avenues, the same rules that apply inside the store also apply directly outside it.

However, this doesn't mean your friend is automatically liable to pay for any damages (those "You Break, You Buy!" signs are not legally binding contracts, regardless of how many exclamation points they choose to employ).

In most states, the customer is usually in the clear if the accident was caused by the trader displaying goods in a negligent way -- this includes items that were protruding from a shelf or placed precariously. On the other hand, if the customer was not showing proper care, the store owner is entitled to ask them to pay for any damages -- this includes the actions of children under the customer's supervision.

In the case of your friend, the question over who was at fault is somewhat grey: the rickety table and location of the goods on the footpath would work in your friend's favour, but only if his kid wasn't acting negligently (e.g. -- if he/she was horsing around and not looking where they were going, the rickety table is probably irrelevant).

Your friend basically has two options: he can choose to suck it up and pay the proprietor or refuse on the grounds that he wasn't at fault. If he picks the latter option, it's then up to the store owner to decide whether it's worth the time and aggravation to take him to court. (Just be aware that security footage could be used as evidence, so honesty is definitely the best policy.)

Personally, I'd talk to the store owner, attempt to find a middle-ground and agree to pay a percentage of the damages. That way, you avoid a possible court appearance and hopefully avoid making an enemy, which is never advisable. While this will put your friend out of pocket, the upside is that he won't have to worry about another confrontation every time he passes the store in future.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    I dont get customers to pay for any damages in the store....regardless of whose at fault. Heres the thing, if you make a customer pay for it, then they are technically allowed to take the broken goods with them. Is that the experience you want your customers to have of your product and business? i hardly think so. If a customer offers to pay, i tell them, that i will be happy to see them a new product, and we will call it even. Its not a win win situation, however my customer has a pleasant experience, and has something to show for it, and i made a sale, that will go towards offsetting any losses that incurred with the damage.

      I want to buy from you already, and I don't even know what you sell !

        Could be big purple dildos, buyer beware.

          If it is big purple dildos, surely any damage from negligence would be to the customers, not your stock.

      +1, great store owner.

      I would just leave my kid, 20 minutes with him will have anyone paying me to take him home again

    Just SLIGHTLY off-topic, but don't we use "exclamation mark" in Australian English, in preference to "point"?

      Wow - I just got a glimpse of how sad I look when nit-picking others grammar.

        I'm not nit-picking, I'm asking. Grammar-correction articles makes a fairly regular appearance here on LH.

    I think the child should pay. If I break something, I don't find excuses as to why it wasn't my fault. I take responsibility. This is a perfect opportunity to teach my child the same lesson. If he can't cover it all, I would pay the rest, because he is my responsibility. Failing to take responsibility is setting a terrible lesson for the child.

    Is It My Fault My Kid Knocked Over That Store Display?Yes..! However, it depends on how the child was behaving in the first place. If it was being allowed to run riot, you pay. If an accident see Kanthan above. :)

      I think you're missing the point.
      It's about teaching the child about consequences of inattention etc, not teaching them that you can get away with anything if you can claim it was an accident or find a good enough excuse.

        It's about teaching the child about consequences of inattention etcThe question was about the parent of the child not the actual child! How does the child learn about the consequences if the parent is unable to control it in the first place? My point is that if the child is being unruly, then as the question asks, is it your fault? I say yes, it is!

        But what if it was an accident? In that case, I think I'd almost refuse to pay. If it really was a rickety table, then it was an accident waiting to happen.

        However, if it was completely my kids fault, then I'd like to think I'd pay. But if we're talking hundreds of dollars worth of stuff... and it's just me and my kid? I might be tempted to stick him under my arm and leg it.

    Very off topic rant - Lifehacker, can we please move away from these whiney, responsibility-avoidance style articles ?
    You've given a correct answer from a 'my rights' point of view, why aren't we fostering the 'my obligation' point of view as well ?
    Society requires such a mentality to operate smoothly without vigourous enforcement, and generally makes the interaction between people much smoother, but unfortunately, our culture seems to be shifting from the mature 'what is expected of me as a decent citizen ?' viewpoint to the immature 'what can I get away with ?'.

    FWIW, if my child knocked something over and broke it - it's my responsibility to pay for it, as the child was under my care (quietly glossing over the fact she is now 20, and quite capable of paying for it herself).
    If the shop owner is generous enough to waive the breakage or meet me halfway, then that is my lucky day.
    It is irrelevant if the table was rickety (might be the uneven pavement, not the table) - if it's on the main street, then obviously pedestrians are able to pass it by without product and produce tumbling willy-nilly onto the pavement, and unless their friend enters shops Mission Impossible style, they managed to avoid it too.

      I agree with you, it's not how do I get out of it but setting an example look at all the problems the concepts of diminished responsibility have caused.

      Get drunk and get hit by a car dancing down the middle of the street, not your fault it's the people who sold you Alcohol knowing you whree going to drink it. While the childs intent was not to knock it over, his actions did and you should make restitution. By not doing so your teaching people to drive into a parked car, and just run away, not be liable for the damage.

    I broke some stuff at a shop when i was about 10, my parents arranged for me to work at the shop for a weekend to pay for the damage.

    Even if it's a ming vase on a rickety plinth, how many other people (and/or with kids) walked by without knocking it over? At the very least you owe them half.

    It's called contributory negligence in torts law. Both the rickety table and the lack of control of the kid would be taken into consideration. If I were the friend I would offer to pay a percentage.

    It's extremely unlikely the store owner could bring forward a successful claim though. How would he obtain the friends details?

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