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Premises Liability FAQ

Premises liability is a legal theory stating that property owners are liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property. The kinds of incidents that may result in premises liability claims can range from a slip and fall in a grocery store or office building to an injury at the zoo.

Liability depends on the laws and procedures of each respective state. Note that an occupier of land, like an apartment tenant, is treated in the same manner as a landowner in many situations. The following are some frequently asked questions surrounding the concept of premises liability.

Q: If someone falls and hurts herself on a hotel's premises, does she have any recourse against the hotel?

A: A hotel might be liable if someone slips or trips and fall on hotel premises. For example, if someone slips on spilled food or drink in a hotel bar or restaurant, snow and ice that has not been cleared from a walkway, or on wet tile floors or other slick surfaces, the hotel might be liable. The hotel staff would have to have known or should have known about the danger and failed to warn visitors or clean it up.

Q: Can a hotel be held responsible if someone is the victim of a crime at or near the hotel?

A: A hotel usually cannot be held liable for crimes committed on or near the hotel unless it should have anticipated the crime (for example, the hotel is in a very high crime area) and could have prevented it, either by providing sufficient warnings or taking better security measures.

Q: Can a college or school be held liable for an attack on a student that occurred on campus?

A: A student attacked on a college campus might have a negligence action against the college. In a developing area of premises liability law, courts have found entities such as universities, motels, convenience stores and shopping malls liable for attacks when they did not exercise reasonable care in protecting victims. In general, a hotel must provide adequate security.

Q: If someone falls on a broken piece of a city sidewalk and is injured, can they sue the city?

A: In many states, statutes giving local governmental entities immunity prohibit recovery in many kinds of cases against cities or towns. If there is not such a statute or ordinance in place, however, someone may have a case against the city. Municipalities have a duty to keep streets and sidewalks in repair.

Q: Can someone attacked after withdrawing money from an automated teller machine (ATM) hold the bank responsible for the attack?

A: Under the legal theory of premises liability, customers have sued banks for failing to protect them from assault at ATMs. While in the past banks had no duty to provide security against such crimes, such a duty has been recognized in a number of cases in recent years.

Q: Do building owners have to have safety precautions, such as sprinklers and posted escape routes, in case of fires?

A: Building owners and/or management are required to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries in case of fire, and should help people on their properties escape, and these safeguards would probably include having sprinklers and posted escape routes.

Q: Who is liable if a person is injured while walking on a public sidewalk next to a construction site, after tripping over a brick from the site?

A: In some circumstances, the injured person will be able to recover damages from the construction company, which has a duty to take reasonable steps to keep public sidewalks near its construction site free from bricks and other debris. If the company fails to remove such obstructions and someone trips and falls, the company may be liable.

Q: What if someone gets injured while at the home of a neighbor, who invited him or her there for a party?

A: Social guests are sometimes able to recover from their hosts, depending on how their injuries happened. Homeowners must tell their guests about, or correct, any dangerous conditions that guests are unlikely to recognize.

Q: I'm not sure I want to commit to a lawyer; where can I get legal help?

A: The cost of not getting a lawyer often is much higher, especially if you've incurred steep medical costs and/or have missed work. If you or a loved one have been injured on someone else's property, you should consider meeting with a local premises liability attorney.

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