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Premises Liability: Who Is Responsible?

Premises Liability

Property owners have a duty of care to maintain a safe environment so that people who come onto the property don't suffer an injury. This responsibility is known as "premises liability." It holds property owners and residents liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property.

The types of incidents that may result in premises liability claims can include:

  • Slip and fall cases, such as on a public sidewalk
  • Dog bites
  • Injuries suffered on an amusement park ride

For example, a courier delivering a package may sue you for injuries if he has a slip and fall accident on an oil slick in the driveway.

This article will discuss premises liability law when a person is injured on someone else's property due to unsafe conditions. You will find information about how liability is determined depending on:

  • The legal status of the visitor
  • The condition of the property and the actions of both the owner and the visitor
  • If the person injured is a trespasser or a child
  • When both the owner and the visitor are at fault for an injury
  • The special rules for landlords

Please be aware that liability is determined by the laws of the state in which the injury occurred. In some states, the court will focus on the status of the injured visitor in determining liability. In other states, the focus will be on the condition of the property and the activities of both the owner and visitor. In most cases, courts will consider the totality of the circumstances. The person occupying a property, such as an apartment tenant, is treated like a landowner in many situations.

Examples of Premises Liability

Premises liability encompasses a broad range of situations where a person is injured due to unsafe conditions on someone else's property. Examples include slipping and falling on a wet floor in a grocery store, suffering an injury in a swimming pool due to a lack of adequate safety measures, or being injured by a faulty escalator in a retail store.

In all these cases, the liability hinges on the property owner or occupier's failure to uphold their duty of care in maintaining a safe environment.

Legal Status of the Visitor

In states that focus only on the status of the visitor to the property, there are generally four different labels that may apply. These are invitees, licensees, social guests, or trespassers.

  • An invitee is invited (either expressly or implied) onto the property of another, such as a customer in a store.
  • A licensee enters a property as a guest or for their own purpose and is present with the consent of the owner.
  • A social guest is a welcome visitor to the property.

Finally, a trespasser enters without any right whatsoever to do so.

The owner's invitation to the invitee implies that the property owner has taken reasonable steps to assure the safety of the premises. In the case of licensees and trespassers, there is no implied promise that reasonable care has been taken to assure the safety of the property.

Condition of the Property and Actions of the Owner and Visitor

In states where consideration is given to the condition of the property and the activities of the owner and visitor, a uniform standard of care is applied to both invitees and licensees. This uniform standard requires the exercise of reasonable care for the safety of any visitor, except trespassers.

Determining whether the standard of reasonableness required by an owner toward licensees (in some states, both licensees and invitees) has been met requires an examination of numerous factors, including:

  • Circumstances under which the visitor entered the property
  • How the property is being used
  • Foreseeability of the accident or injury that occurred
  • Reasonableness of the owner's effort to repair a dangerous condition or warn visitors of the dangerous condition

Trespassers on Property

If the owner knows it's likely that trespassers will enter the property, he or she may have a duty to give reasonable warning to prevent injury. This requirement applies only with respect to artificial conditions that the owner has created or maintains and knows may be likely to cause serious injury or death. In almost all cases, courts have found that booby traps are illegal.

Children on Property

A landowner's duty to warn differs for children who aren't authorized to be on the property. A property owner/possessor must give a warning if:

  1. They know (or should know) that children are likely to be on the premises; and
  2. A dangerous condition on the premises is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death

The special duty to children is generally called the attractive nuisance doctrine. A common example is swimming pool accidents.

When Both Parties Are at Fault

One common argument against liability on the part of the property owner/possessor is that the injured person was partially at fault for what happened. In most cases, a visitor has a duty to exercise reasonable care for their own safety. When that care is not exercised appropriately, the plaintiff's recovery may be limited or reduced by their own negligence.

Just as in personal injury law, most states adhere to a comparative fault system in premises liability cases. This means that an injured person's legal damages will be reduced by a percentage that's equivalent to their fault for the incident. For example, if it's decided that an injured person was 25% liable for an accident, and the total damages were $10,000, they will receive only $7,500.

Special Rules for Landlords

Special liability rules may apply in cases of lessors, commonly called landlords, of property. The general rule holds that a landlord isn't liable to a tenant (or anyone else) for physical harm caused by a condition on the property if that condition was created after the landlord delivered possession to the tenant. This general rule is based partially on the landlord's presumed lack of control over the property once it's leased. But this rule has many important exceptions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The following are frequently asked questions about premises liability and responsibility:

What role does the insurance company play in a premises liability lawsuit?

Insurance companies are typically involved in handling claims against property owners. If a lawsuit ensues, the insurance company is often responsible for:

  1. Providing a defense; and
  2. Paying any settlements or judgments within policy limits

What does 'pain and suffering' mean in the context of premises liability?

Pain and suffering refers to the physical discomfort and emotional distress a victim can seek compensation for in a lawsuit. This is considered non-economic damage. It is calculated separately from medical bills or lost wages. The amount depends on the severity of the injury and the specific circumstances of the case.

Can a premises liability lawsuit include a claim for medical bills?

Absolutely. In fact, a premises liability lawsuit typically includes a claim for medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury. These are categorized as economic damages. They may cover past and future medical expenses. This can include costs for:

  • Hospital stays
  • Surgeries
  • Medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Any necessary medical equipment
  • Ongoing treatment required due to the injury

The aim is to ensure that victims are not left to bear the financial burden of an accident caused by someone else's negligence.

What is a statute of limitations in a premises liability case?

The statute of limitations in a premises liability case refers to the time period within which you must file a lawsuit. This period varies, depending on the state and the nature of the claim. If a claim is not filed within this time period, the victim generally loses the right to seek legal remedy for their injuries. Consult with an attorney as soon as possible after an accident to ensure compliance with these deadlines.

What is the meaning of owner's negligence in premises liability cases?

Owner's negligence refers to the property owner's failure to exercise reasonable care in maintaining a safe environment on the property. This could involve:

  • Failing to repair known hazards
  • Inadequate security measures
  • Failing to warn visitors of potential dangers

If such negligence leads to an injury on the property, the owner can be held liable for damages in a premises liability lawsuit.

What happens if a car accident occurs on my property?

If a car accident occurs on your property due to unsafe conditions that you, as the property owner, should have addressed, you could potentially be held responsible under premises liability laws. This liability would depend on the nature of the unsafe condition, whether you knew or should have known about it, and whether it was a foreseeable cause of the accident.

Always consult with a premises liability attorney to understand your potential liability in such cases.

How are wrongful death and premises liability connected?

If an unsafe condition on a property results in a fatality, the deceased person's family may have grounds to file a wrongful death claim. This is a type of premises liability claim where the property owner or occupier can be held accountable for failing to uphold their duty of care. Compensation in wrongful death claims can cover funeral and burial costs, lost earnings, loss of companionship, and the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before death.

What is contributory negligence in premises liability cases?

Contributory negligence refers to situations where the injured party bears some degree of fault for their injury. In some jurisdictions, any degree of contributory negligence can bar the victim from recovering damages. This is known as “pure contributory negligence."

However, many states follow a comparative negligence rule, where the victim's compensation is reduced by the percentage of their fault. For example, if the victim is found to be 30% at fault for their injury, they would only be able to recover 70% of the total damages awarded.

What role does a personal injury attorney play in a premises liability lawsuit?

A personal injury attorney can help you navigate a premises liability claim. They can help:

  • Establish proof of the defendant's negligence
  • Collect and preserve evidence
  • Assess the true value of damages
  • Negotiate with insurance companies

If negotiations don't result in a fair settlement, the attorney will represent the victim in court and present the strongest case possible for compensation. A personal injury attorney advocates for the victim's rights. They strive to ensure they receive maximum compensation for their injuries.

Get Legal Advice for a Premises Liability Injury

If you or a loved one has suffered a premises liability injury, you should speak with an experienced premises liability lawyer to ensure that your rights to compensation in a personal injury claim are fully assessed and protected. Many personal injury lawyers offer a free case evaluation. If they think you have a valid claim, they may work with you on a contingency basis, collecting payment only if you win or settle your premises liability accident case.

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