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.


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