English English Spanish Spanish

What Is Premises Liability and Who Is Responsible?

Caution Wet Floor sign on a wet floor

Whenever you step foot on someone else’s property in New York City – whether it is a supermarket, a commercial building, retail store, apartment building, commercial property, private home, parking lot, school, hospital, hotel, restaurant, or even a public sidewalk or roadway – you generally expect to be reasonably safe.Worrying about injury may not even cross your mind because you unconsciously trust that the property owners have done their due diligence and have kept the area free of any hazards.

Unfortunately, many property owners disregard basic safety standards and slack off on routine maintenance, typically due to the time, effort, and resources required.What both they (and you) may not realize, however, is that neglecting their duty of care can result in significantly heavier costs through a personal injury lawsuit. If you have been injured on any property, including your own, be sure to read through the rest of the article.

We want to help you understand how personal injury and premises liability laws can affect you. In this article, we will discuss what premises liability is, common types of premises liability cases, who should be liable for your injuries, how to determine liability after your accident, and whether compensation is still possible when you are partly responsible for the premises liability accident.

What Is Premises Liability?

Premises liability refers to a specific set of laws that govern the legal duty of a premises owner to keep their property safe and free of known hazards for residents, visitors, and employees.

Premises liability falls under the umbrella of personal injury law, which allows victims to seek compensation when their injuries were a result of someone else’s recklessness or negligence. When a negligent property owner fails to maintain their property and it directly leads to an individual’s injuries, a premises liability lawsuit can be filed against them. The principles of premises liability apply in all states, including New York.

Accidents can occur either inside or outside of a building (e.g. on the sidewalk directly in front of a building). As long as they were a result of a failure to warn guests of hazardous conditions or negligent maintenance, the property owner can be held accountable because they are legally responsible for guests’ safety.

Responsibility does not fall solely on the property owner, however. In some cases, the at-fault party could be a landlord, a property manager, a tenant, a maintenance company, a general contractor, or some other related entity.

In NY, premises liability accidents can occur in a wide range of areas, such as:

  • Public transportation (e.g. trains and subway platforms, buses and bus stops, etc.)
  • Office buildings
  • Apartment buildings
  • Supermarkets
  • Malls, shopping centers, and retail stores
  • Parking lots and garages
  • Sports stadiums
  • Community parks and playgrounds
  • Private property (e.g. a neighbor’s home)
  • Public sidewalks and roadways
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Amusement parks and water parks,
  • … And more

If you have been injured due to a negligent property owner, the best way to protect your rights is by hiring a New York premises liability lawyer. Many liability attorneys offer a free case evaluation before you commit to working with them, so you can get solid advice on your legal options and an educated perspective on whether or not you have a legitimate claim and what steps you could reasonably take.

Our team at The Pagan Law Firm, P.C., has years of experience in handling New York premises liability and medical malpractice cases. We always strive to establish an attorney-client relationship characterized by trust, compassion, and perseverance. We go above and beyond for all of our injured clients and have secured millions of dollars worth of settlements over the years.

Call us at (219) 319-1573 or contact us online today for a free consultation on your potential premises liability case!

Types of Premises Liability Cases

Premises liability law can be applied in a wide range of situations that involve someone else’s property, which makes for many different types of premises liability cases. Here are some of the most common:

  • Slip, trip, and fall accidents – This is the most common type of premises liability claim. Slips and falls occur when hazardous conditions (e.g. a slippery or icy floor or torn carpeting) cause an individual to lose their balance and fall. These accidents are particularly dangerous for older adults, often causing broken bones or head injuries.
  • Swimming pool accidents – These are accidents that occur due to safety code violations, improper pool maintenance, inattentive lifeguards, unsafe pool equipment, or other forms of negligence.
  • Dog bites or animal attacks – Pet owners have a duty to protect others from their pets. When accidents occur due to their failure to properly restrain their pets, especially in high population areas, they can be held responsible for the injuries their pets inflict. The medical bills in these cases can be extremely high due to the possibility of infection.
  • Inadequate security – These are accidents that occur due to a failure to provide proper security. For example, if you were robbed, assaulted, or otherwise hurt in a parking lot due to a lack of security guards, adequate lighting, or surveillance cameras, it would fall under this category.
  • School negligence – If your child was injured under school supervision (e.g. attacked by a bully, left unsupervised, or involved in a school bus accident) you may have the right to take legal action.
  • Inadequate maintenance – These are accidents that occur because the property owner failed to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the property. For example, failure to trim damaged trees properly can lead to branches falling suddenly and causing injury or property damage, and failure to perform snow and ice removal can lead to a slip and fall injury.

Who Is Responsible for the Property?

To begin the process of seeking compensation for your injuries, you have to first learn who is responsible for the property. Generally, a property owner will be held responsible for the safety of their property. However, they may have transferred certain responsibilities to other people through leasing contracts or the like.

Landlord, Tenant, Owner, or Manager?

Under New York premises liability laws, landlords are still required to keep the property in reasonably safe condition even if they have signed possession or control of the property to a tenant.

However, if they are an out-of-possession landlord, they can only be held legally liable if the accident occurred due to a defective condition under their control, which means that the condition occurred in an area they had control over. An out-of-possession landlord cannot be held responsible for injuries after they transfer possession and control over to their tenant(s) unless:

  • The landlord is contractually obligated to make repairs on the property, or
  • The landlord has reserved the right to enter the property to make repairs, or
  • The injuries were caused by a significant design or structural defect on the property that violates safety provisions.

To strengthen a premises liability claim, it can be established that an area was under a landlord’s control through:

  • Written proof of the landlord’s obligation to make repairs, such as a clause in a leasing agreement,
  • Documented proof of the landlord’s actions showing that they had assumed responsibility to control a certain area of the premises (e.g. inspecting the electrical system regularly), or
  • Proof that the landlord has reserved the right to enter the property to make repairs (written or otherwise).

On the flip side, a tenant on the property also has their own share of responsibility. This could be simpler maintenance tasks, like ensuring the smoke alarm has working batteries. You will likely find these responsibilities stated in the leasing contract, which can be a powerful tool in a premises liability case.

For example, imagine an electrical fire has occurred on a rental property. The tenant had previously complained to the landlord about the electrical system – it was old, did not have enough electrical outlets, and already had several blown fuses. As such, the tenant frequently used extension cords for their devices. Then, one of the tenant’s extension cords overheats and starts a fire that injures the tenant heavily.

In this scenario, while the fire was not directly caused by the electrical system under the landlord’s control, they were still responsible for acknowledging the tenant’s complaints about a potentially hazardous condition. Both the parties share part of the blame for the fire.

The contracts between property owners, landlords, tenants, and property management companies can often create blurry lines around the question of responsibility. Premises liability lawyers can help you pinpoint who is responsible for the control and maintenance of the conditions that caused your accident.

Injuries on Public Property

Injuries on public property can have additional considerations, especially when the government is in charge of its care and maintenance. Government entities are typically protected by certain immunity provisions, but it is not impossible to file a claim against them.

In New York City, if you want to file a premises liability claim against a governmental entity for an injury that happened on NYC premises, you have to file a notice of claim within 90 days. After you have notified them of your intent, you have one year and 90 days to process your premises liability claim.

In certain cases, you may be able to hold accountable the private company contracted to maintain the property or the manufacturer of a defective product on the property that caused your injury. If you have a case like this, NYC personal injury lawyers can ensure that you follow the correct requirements for filing premises liability claims against government entities.

How to Determine if the Defendant Is Responsible

The biggest hurdle to successful premises liability claims is establishing responsibility. Even if you are aware that they are the property owner and they should be responsible for your injuries, you must be able to prove it after a prompt and thorough investigation.

Establishing responsibility begins with confirming that the defendant (the at-fault party) had a duty of care towards you. Property owners have a duty towards individuals that were lawfully on their property. This includes both individuals on the premises for commercial reasons (e.g. shopping at a store) and non-commercial reasons (e.g. visiting a home for a social gathering).

Aside from establishing a duty of care, you need to prove three additional conditions:

#1. The Person at Fault Had Time to Take Care of the Property’s Liability

While owners are responsible for their property’s safety, you cannot expect them to be omniscient. For example, say you slipped on an icy patch on the sidewalk. If the ice patch was caused by recent snowfall and the owners performed regular snow and ice removal, it can be ruled that they exercised a reasonable standard of care and thus were not negligent.

#2. The Property Owner, Landlord, Tenant, or Manager Was Negligent About the Maintenance of the Property

Property owners should be aware of hazardous conditions around their property. For example, say a supermarket employee caused a spill and failed to clean it up. If the owner was exercising reasonable care, then someone should be monitoring the premises and be able to notice the spill before it causes injury.

A negligent property owner may fail to address or provide warnings about hazardous conditions that they know about (or should have known about), leading to injury.

#3. You Suffered Injuries Due to Their Negligence

The last element you need to prove is that your injuries were directly caused by their failure to uphold their duty of care. It is not enough to say that you were injured and the property owner was negligent – you must be able to link them together and prove that your injury occurred because they were negligent.

#4. Were You Trespassing?

Trespassing can make premises liability cases a bit more complicated. Technically, you had no legal right to be on the property and the owner did not owe a duty of care to you. However, there are two exceptions:

  • The property owner failed to provide warnings about man-made dangers – For example, if the property was surrounded by an electric fence with no warning sign, you could not have reasonably known about the danger and may thus be able to secure damages with the help of a premises liability lawyer.
  • The trespasser is a child – Property owners are required to take measures to protect children, especially if their property has tempting conditions for a child (e.g. a swimming pool). If they did not provide warnings about potential harm or repair dangerous conditions, they may be found liable for the child’s injury.A New York premises liability attorney can help you navigate this gray area.

Can You Get Compensated When Both Parties Are at Fault?

In liability cases, determining fault is a vital part of the case. When your injuries were directly caused by the property owner’s negligence, you are owed financial compensation.

However, liability is often not black and white, which is why a thorough investigation is always necessary in premises liability cases. Liability is directly tied to the amount of compensation you are owed through comparative negligence (also known as comparative fault) laws, which a premises liability attorney can help you understand.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence laws take into account each party’s degree of fault when calculating damages for an accident. They apply to most types of personal injury cases, like a car accident injury or a slip and fall injury.

An easy way to understand it is by considering a car accident scenario. Imagine you were injured in an accident and were found to be 20% at fault while the other driver is 80% at fault. Perhaps you had made a minor traffic violation or did not execute the correct evasive maneuver, and it contributed to the accident.

When you file an injury claim and successfully secure compensation, you can expect the amount to be decreased proportionally to your degree of fault. If the full compensation for your damages totals $100,000, it will be reduced by 20% and you will only receive $80,000.

Two types of comparative negligence laws exist: “pure comparative negligence” and “modified comparative negligence.” Of the two, modified comparative negligence is more common.

In a modified comparative negligence state, you can only recover damages if your degree of fault does not exceed 50%. In some areas, it cannot exceed 49%.

In a pure comparative negligence state, you can recover damages regardless of your degree of fault. This means that even if you were 99% at fault, you can still recover 1% of your damages from the other party. Only 13 states follow a pure comparative negligence system.

An additional and even less common type of liability law is contributory negligence. Under this system, you cannot recover damages if you possess any degree of fault for the accident – it does not matter if they were 95% at fault and you were only 5% at fault, you will likely be barred from seeking compensation. Only 5 states follow a contributory negligence system.

Pure Comparative Negligence in NY Premises Liability

New York law follows the pure comparative negligence system – it is one of the 13 states to do so. This means that you can still get compensated even when both parties are at fault. Up until 1975, however, the state used a contributory negligence system.

This can be a relief when you are unsure whether or not you contributed to the accident through clumsiness or a lack of attention. In addition, insurance companies will often try their hardest to deny responsibility and pin the blame on you. Knowing that you will be able to recover damages even when you were partially at fault can be reassuring.

However, keep in mind that while the pure comparative negligence system can be forgiving, you also risk facing wrongly-placed blame that will unfairly decrease your compensation. This is why having a skilled New York premises liability attorney by your side is paramount when filing a premises liability claim. They will be able to defend you from unjust accusations and solidify the defendant’s degree of responsibility.

Having a premises liability attorney is also important in cases that feature multiple parties at fault. In New York, you have the option of holding each defendant individually or collectively responsible. For example, a certain defendant may only be 1% responsible for the accident but may be forced to pay the entirety of your compensation if the other defendants do not have sufficient funds.

A premises liability attorney can help you identify multiple responsible parties, establish their liability, and advise you on the best way to collect compensation.

What Damages Can I Be Awarded?

In a personal injury case, you can typically be awarded three types of damages:

  • Economic damages – These are damages with a direct financial cost, including current and future medical bills (for medical treatments, hospital stays, disability, physical therapy, medication, rehabilitation, etc.), current lost wages, and future lost wages (from an inability to attend work or diminished earning capability), property damage, and funeral expenses (in event of death).
  • Non-economic damages – These are damages with no direct financial cost, including physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, and a loss of companionship (in the event of death).
  • Punitive damages – This is a rare type of additional damages awarded in cases where the at-fault party displayed extreme recklessness or disregard for the consequences of their actions. To secure punitive damages, it must be established that the at-fault party knew (or otherwise should have known) that their actions would lead to severe injuries or death.

Often, premises liability lawyers will increase your chances of a higher settlement amount in New York City. Skilled liability lawyers know how to calculate the damages you have sustained, even when they do not come with a price tag. They also have the experience to negotiate with insurance companies looking to pay as little as possible.

Hire The Pagan Law Firm Today

No one ever expects to be a victim of personal injury. Often, accidents happen without warning, leaving you confused, overwhelmed, and pained while handling lost wages and medical bills. Even when an accident happens in the blink of an eye, it can leave serious injuries and lifelong consequences, such as a permanent disability, an inability to return to work, or in the worst-case scenario, death.

At The Pagan Law Firm, P.C., we understand the effects that a premises liability accident can have on your life and livelihood. While you deserve fair compensation, navigating the process of a premises liability claim can be an uphill struggle on your own. We want to give you a free consultation so we can fight alongside you and relentlessly pursue compensation on your behalf – we’ll make sure that you can focus your energy on recovering from your injuries.

We can skillfully handle the work, preserving vital evidence before the area is altered by repair or clean-up, obtaining witness testimonies, gathering information from the other party, calculating the damages you are rightfully owed, and negotiating with greedy insurance companies. Our compassionate New York premises liability attorneys are intimately familiar with New York premises liability laws, so you can trust that you will always be in good hands.

Experience the difference of having a skilled premises liability lawyer by your side – contact us via mail or call us at 219-544-5320 about your case for a free consultation today. We are always ready to help.