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An In-Depth Guide to Premises Liability Cases

premises liability law

Accidents happen all the time. Whether it’s a minor slip and fall, a vehicle accident in your city, or any type of injury sustained through unexpected events, it typically calls for a hefty sum of medical bills, repairs, and possibly psychological stress and trauma. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re the only one who should be paying the price. If you’re someone who has recently been injured in a public establishment or on someone else’s property, then you may be entitled to compensation from the property owners. 

According to premises liability laws, accidents sustained on someone else’s property are the property owner’s responsibility. Learn more about premises liability claims and where you can contact a premises liability lawyer below. 

What Is Premises Liability Law?

Premises liability law is responsible for holding a property owner accountable for any unforeseen events and accidents that occur within their property. Although different conditions may apply to each state, the law is generally practiced across the entire country. It states that all property owners have a legal obligation to ensure that their establishments, buildings, or other forms of property are safe to operate and contain no hazards for personal injury. If the building owner fails to secure a safe environment and subjects any visitors or tenants to dangerous conditions, then the injured person will be entitled to compensation. 

Even if the injuries caused were sustained from unintentional harm, the building owner and property manager must cover costs related to the personal injury. The conditions for determining the applicable conditions for premises liability cases may vary depending on in which state the accident happened. However, a status-based approach is commonly practiced to identify whether the property owner is truly liable for the incident. 

Premises Liability Claims: Legal Status

A property owner is generally expected to exercise reasonable care over his or her properties to avoid liability cases and accidents. However, some exceptions may occur depending on the status of the injured person. Not all states practice this standard, so it is only applicable in certain areas. Here is a brief guide to each type of legal status that may be considered in a personal injury claim. 

Invitees

Invitees are individuals that have been personally invited by the property owner. Whether the invitation was directly mentioned or suggested, the property owner or property manager is legally responsible for any unsafe condition or liability injuries sustained within the vicinity. Invitees often include visitors like family and friends. For public and recreational establishments like stores and restaurants, the invitees would include customers, business partners, guests, and so on. 

Invitees can file a premises liability claim if they were injured due to an unsafe condition that the property owner knew about and failed to resolve. Premises liability cases, however, can still be filed against the property owner even if they were unaware of the hazards within the area, as they are obligated to ensure that their property is fully safe and free from any injury hazards.

Licensees

Similar to an invitee, a licensee is a welcome guest to the property. Unlike invitees, licensees will most likely be entering a property for their own benefit or for purposes that are not directly related to the property or business owner. This includes individuals like door-to-door salesmen, unexpected guests, construction workers employed by your local town or county, and more. In the event that licensees are subjected to a dangerous condition, then the property owner will be held responsible. However, there are some factors that must be considered.

The premises liability case will only be considered valid if:

  • The property owner knew about the dangerous conditions before the injury occurred. If the owner did not take any action in resolving issues that they were already aware of, then the injured licensee may file a premises liability claim.
  • The property owner failed to inform the licensee of any obvious and potential dangers present within the area. Owners are legally required to inform or warn visitors of any possible hazards that they may encounter during their stay. 

Trespassers

Trespassers are unwelcomed individuals who have entered the property owner’s premises with or without their knowledge. Liability cases for trespassers are generally not considered a valid claim, as they had no legal right to enter the area in the first place. However, a trespasser may still be entitled to compensation if a serious injury or fatality is sustained through unreasonable actions of the property owner. Any reasonable person would resort to self-defense if a trespasser threatens to inflict bodily harm on them. However, according to legal principles, the property owners may not use willful violence or set up potential hazards for the sole reason of protecting their property. In this instance, the property owner will be required to compensate the trespasser.

Attractive Nuisance

Child trespassers are considered exceptions to premises liability cases if they were drawn in by an “attractive nuisance” or eye-catching structure, such as swimming pools, playgrounds, and other similar amenities. In this instance, the property owner must already be aware of the potential hazards that come with these structures. With that, they must take reasonable steps to ensure that the structure is completely safe to use for children or that it cannot be easily accessed by young trespassers. If children get injured on someone else’s property for this reason, then they must be properly compensated by the owner. 

Types of Premises Liability Claims

Slip and Fall Accidents

There are many possible reasons why slip and fall accidents can occur. It could be due to slippery floors with no warning signs, uneven flooring, spilled and uncleaned liquid on the ground, unmarked pathways, and much more. It’s also more likely that a person will slip and fall on icy grounds during the wintertime if the property owner did not exercise care in maintaining the safety of their premises. The amount of possibilities makes slip and fall accidents one of the most common reasons behind premises liability cases. All liquids and slipping hazards must be properly stored and fixed to avoid liability. 

Dog Bites From Unrestrained Pets

Injuries caused by a wild or unruly pet fall under the property owner’s scope of responsibilities. Premises liability injuries from dog bites are often caused by the negligence of the owner. Some dogs have a tendency to attack or bite people without warning, so building a safety fence or putting the animal on a leash is a necessary precaution, whether the property owner is expecting visitors or not. At the very least, the owner must put a warning sign (Ex. Beware of Dogs) to inform people that there is such an animal on the premises. 

Inadequate Maintenance

Premises liability cases often occur in residential areas and business establishments which are one of the biggest contributors to personal injury cases. If a property remains unkept and without proper maintenance for a prolonged time, then it will naturally develop safety hazards that could lead to a premises liability injury. This includes ceilings caving in, holes in the floor, or any unsafe condition that has resulted from a lack of adequate maintenance. Property owners are obligated to ensure that their properties are free from any hazards before they begin accepting any guests. If the property owner failed to secure their guests’ safety, then they must provide the appropriate compensation to the injured individual. 

Lack of Security

Trespassers may enter the property and begin causing bodily harm to individuals present in the area. If you are someone who has suffered from a bodily injury due to an establishment or property’s lack of security, then you are eligible to file a premises liability case against the property owner. Examples of this premises liability case include an armed robber breaking into a property and inflicting injury on someone while trying to secure material goods. To ensure that the property has adequate security at all times, the property owner must exercise reasonable care by making sure that all doors have working locks and that the building is equipped with a functioning security system. 

Lack of Accessibility

Some states practice the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is also known as the accessibility code. In places where the code is applicable, all property owners must ensure that their establishment has complied with the code’s terms and conditions. If these standards are not met, then it’s possible that any individuals with disabilities may sustain an injury or get into an accident as they enter the vicinity. For example, a person that is in a wheelchair may have a hard time navigating the area due to unevenly elevated ground. Individuals that use a cane or have motor disabilities may sustain trip or slip and fall accidents while walking on chipped floors.

Where Does Premises Liability Law Apply?

Premises liability law is applicable as long as the accident happened at a property that was not your own. They can occur anywhere, whether it is in a place that you frequently visit or somewhere you have never been before. Some areas contain safety hazards by nature, which is why property owners must exercise caution and care when managing the area.

Listed below are some of the most common locations where premises liability cases occur.

Apartment Buildings

Apartment buildings are a top spot for premises liability cases. If you are living in an unmaintained apartment complex with a negligent owner, then you are exposed to a number of safety code violations and dangerous conditions. Apartment buildings can prompt many forms of premises liability cases, such as sustaining an injury from a structure that crumbled down or a slip and fall down slippery or chipped floors. It can also result in highly dangerous situations, such as fire due to the lack of functioning emergency sprinkler systems inside the building. Once you visit or begin living in an apartment complex, your safety becomes the property manager’s responsibility. 

Swimming Pools

Swimming pools are another common area for personal injury cases. Whether you’re swimming in a private or public pool, you are still stepping into someone’s property. Thus, they are responsible for maintaining your safety. Swimming pools are composed of predominantly wet areas, which is why they are one of the leading venues for slip and fall incidents. A premises liability case may be filed if an individual sustains injury in the swimming pool due to a lack of safety precautions, like lifeguards for enhanced supervision or warning signs. Swimming pools contain many possible hazards, such as deep waters, slippery floors, and high structures like slides. Property owners must exercise extra care in maintaining the area. 

Sidewalks

Sidewalks are responsible for many slip and fall premises liability cases, especially during the wintertime or rainy days. These pathways are prone to being frozen or becoming slippery based on the current weather conditions. As a commonly used pathway, property owners must ensure that their sidewalks are equally well-maintained as the rest of their property. Ice and snow must be cleared to accommodate pedestrians and avoid slip and fall injuries. A premises liability case may also arise from someone tripping and falling due to cracks and chips in the sidewalk, which may cause severe injury or fatalities if left unfixed. 

Public Amenities and Establishments

People come and go from public establishments, which is why property owners must ensure that they are always well-maintained and can safely accommodate guests. Some examples of these public establishments include shopping malls, grocery stores, restaurants, and other similar areas. Like apartment buildings, the business owner must identify all issues within the building and resolve them to prevent any accidents from occurring. 

All business establishments should be equipped with emergency exits and must comply with all safety codes to continue operating. Even small incidents like uncleaned spills in a grocery aisle could result in a premises liability case as they can cause slip and fall injuries. Amusement parks are another common example of recreational establishments that often encounter a premises liability case. As a venue with large machines, tall structures, and high-speed rides, a premises liability case can easily happen once the property owner violates the safety code or is negligent in the maintenance of the park. 

Elements of a Premises Liability Claim

There are four key elements in a premises liability case. The injured individual must inform their attending personal injury lawyer or premises liability lawyer of all necessary information to complete the details within these elements and receive the most appropriate compensation for their premises liability injury.

  • Duty of Care Owed – To qualify for compensation under the premises liability laws, the property owner must have a set responsibility over the injured individual’s safety and wellbeing. This is fairly easy to establish, especially for invitees. For example, all business owners are legally obligated to ensure that their customers are safe and are not exposed to any unsafe conditions.
  • Duty of Care Breached – Once the legal responsibilities of the property owner over your safety have been established, it is time to solidify their premises liability by presenting the duty of care they have breached. For instance, customers sustained injuries inside a restaurant because there were gaps and cracks on the floor due to the broken tiles, which caused the customers to trip and hurt themselves. This is an unsafe condition that the business owner is responsible for.
  • Direct Involvement of the Property Owner – In relation to the second element, the property owner must have a direct correlation to the injuries sustained by the individuals. With the previously mentioned example, the owner will be held liable if they were aware of the cracks and left them unresolved for a prolonged time, even though they knew that they could be a potential threat to the customers of their establishment.
  • Damages Sustained – In a premises liability case, the damages sustained refer to the personal injury and other losses that occurred in the aftermath of the accident. This includes factors like medical bills, the injured individual’s physical well-being, mental health, and lost time and earnings from the individual’s job. All of these must be compensated by the property owner. 

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence means that the one at fault in a premises liability case cannot be determined at a glance. Unlike situations wherein the property owner is directly responsible for the accidents, some circumstances may involve accidents that are also a result of the injured individual’s negligence or lack of vigilance. This often entails a more elaborate procedure in which you will need a lot of assistance from your attending premises liability attorney. In these circumstances, there are two legal concepts that may occur. 

Pure Comparative Fault

Pure comparative fault allows both parties to recover compensation for damages, regardless of who was mostly responsible for the accident occurring. For example, even if the property owner was mainly at fault for not resolving any long-standing issues in their establishment or building, the other party may still be held responsible if the cause of the injury was completely visible and within their line of sight. If the incident caused any damage to the property owner’s area, belongings, or land, then they may also ask for compensation from the other party. 

Modified Comparative Fault

Modified comparative fault is only practiced in certain states. It is not practiced in New York but is commonly an option in states like Colorado or Utah. Unlike pure comparative fault, this type of legal concept enforces a rule that a party that is more than 50% to blame cannot file for compensation against the other party. This means that if the property owner is responsible for 51% of the damages, then they cannot file a request for compensation against the injured individual.

How To Prove Your Premises Liability Claim

To ensure that your premises liability claim is valid, you must supply enough evidence to prove that the incidents and your injuries were not caused by your own negligence. You may secure the following materials and hand them over to your premises liability attorney to support your claim. 

Pictures and Footage

Pictures and videos of the incident are some of the most reliable forms of evidence that you can present. It’s best to take pictures of your surroundings and the injuries as soon as the incident occurs. Take a photo of what caused your injuries, such as spills on the floor, a lack of warning signs around a hazardous area, or broken structures that might have collapsed. If you have access to any of the CCTV footage, then that would be a big help. Having recorded footage will let everyone see how the incident played out, what exactly caused it, and who is ultimately responsible for the situation. 

Insurance Policies

If you and the property owner can’t settle on an exact amount for compensation, then you may attempt to reach out to the owner’s insurance company to verify their insurance policies. This will give you access to a detailed report that will help you determine whether the property owner is being truly transparent about the amount of coverage that they are claiming. 

Medical Bills

Secure a copy of your medical bills from your healthcare provider. This will allow you to identify all of the medical expenses that you must be reimbursed for once the premises liability case has proceeded. You can possibly secure a larger amount if you are able to request a medical record from your attending doctor. This record will display the severity of your injuries, how much damage you sustained physically and mentally, and the losses you suffered as a result of the incident. 

Work With Experienced Premises Liability Lawyers

You deserve a reliable attorney to support you in your premises liability case. The Pagan Law Firm has been in service for over 30 years, offering premises liability and medical malpractice services for all individuals in need. Secure the most desirable outcome in your premises liability case by working with us today. We are ready to help you through every situation.