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Dollar General cited for willful, repeat hazards on store premises

The notorious dangers of Black Friday shopping grab the headlines this time of year. Fights, brawls, and stabbings and even shootings have been reported. Crowds stampede, trampling shoppers and store workers. Even the parking lot is unsafe.

At least the Black Friday shoppers are expecting it. At other times of the year, dangerous conditions in retail establishments get much less attention -- but unfortunately, they're all too common.

Take the case of Dollar General, for example. It's one of the nation's largest discount chains, operating over 12,500 stores in 43 states, including New York. It employs some 100,000 people and earned an estimated $20.4 billion last year.

It has also been fined more than $1 million by OSHA since 2010.

While OSHA says it has recorded over 100 safety and health violations at Dollar General stores across the country, the agency's greatest concern is merchandise blocking access to emergency exit routes.

It can be tempting to use that barely-used back hallway as a storage area. It may not seem like a big deal to you -- it apparently didn't to Dollar General's management, as OSHA calls the company's noncompliance "willful." Nevertheless, most people understand there has to be a clear exit available in case of an emergency, and even if they don't, they comply with the law requiring it.

Blocked exits put both workers and customers at serious risk, and federal safety inspectors take the issue very seriously indeed. Earlier this month, OSHA assessed a proposed fine of $117,579 against Dollar General for willfully violating the safety standard at only one store.

OSHA's primary role is not to inspect retail stores looking for possible code violations. Its mission is to protect workers from workplace safety and health problems. It's also not the only government agency that might have discovered this problem. A local fire marshal would have the same concerns as OSHA: It's simply not safe to block the fire exit.

Injured Dollar General employees would have access to workers' compensation. If you were shopping at Dollar General and were injured because an emergency exit was blocked, how would you get the company to pay your medical bills and other losses?

You would need to file a premises liability claim. All property owners and managers have a legal duty to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition. If they negligently fail to do so and someone is injured, they are legally responsible for the harm they cause.

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