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​What you need to know if you break or damage something in a shop.

If you are in a shop and you break something, the shop can ask you to pay for the damaged stock if:

  • you were careless or didn't take reasonable care
  • you were not supervising your children and they broke something
  • the shop didn't contribute to the breakage, eg by putting fragile items on an unstable shelf.

Your rights if you damage something in a shop

The shop can recover all its direct losses for damaged stock if you didn’t take reasonable care or adequately supervise your children.

You don't have to pay if:

  • an event outside your control led or contributed to the damage, eg you broke something while having to quickly evacuate the shop during a fire alarm
  • actions of the shop staff led or contributed to the damage, eg fragile items were stacked on an unstable surface.

A sign like ‘If you break it, you buy it’ may not have any legal weight. Whether you have to pay the shop for a breakage or not will depend on if you failed to take due care. But a shop can display a sign warning you to take care around goods that they know are fragile and need careful handling. For example, ‘Please ask a sales assistant if you would like to look at these products’.


If things go wrong

Talk to the retailer first to try and resolve any dispute.

Explain to them why you don't think you should have to pay for damages to their stock. You may want to do this in writing and at a later date. They can't force you to pay up then and there.

If you can’t agree over payment, the shop could take you to the Disputes Tribunal, but they will have to prove you were careless.

Insurance

The shop could choose to claim breakages on their insurance, rather than charging you for them. This will depend on whether it is worthwhile for them to do so. But their insurer may ask you to pay back anything they had to pay out to the shop.

It is also worth checking if your house and contents insurance will cover the cost of any damage. Check with your insurer.


Examples

Example — Failing to supervise children

Mary takes her small toddler with her when she goes to a homewares shop to look for a new casserole dish. The toddler wanders off around the shop, picks up a glass bowl and drops it. Mary is liable for the damaged stock, as she did not supervise her child properly.

Example — Damage outside your control

La'ei has to move quickly to the exit of the shop because of a fire alarm. On the way, she gets pushed by the crowd and knocks over a table with glasses on it. It is unlikely that she would have to pay for the broken glasses. It's reasonable for her to take care of herself rather than property when her life may be at risk. In this case, other factors contributed to the damage.

Example — Not taking adequate care

Honghui entered a clothing shop just after buying a takeout coffee. He spotted a shirt he wanted to take a closer look at, and put his drink down on a shelf beside him, not looking carefully at where he was putting it. The cup fell over and spilled coffee all over a mohair jumper folded beneath it. Honghui had to pay the full cost of the jumper.

Example — Shop at fault

Ashley was having dinner in a restaurant. The server brought wine to the table, and moved Ashley's glass to the edge of the table to fill it. Ashley didn't notice where the server had placed the glass, and when she moved in her seat she knocked the glass and it fell to the ground and smashed. Ashley was not charged for the breakage.