The Handbook to Premises Liability
When a person is injured on someone else’s property, they may be able to recover for damages arising from that injury. The owner or manager of that property must take reasonable steps to keep you safe. However, if you do suffer an injury while being on another’s property, the owner may be liable through premises liability (a personal injury lawsuit).
The Property Owner's Responsibility
Many states require the property owner or manager to employ reasonable care in the maintenance of their property with respect to ANYONE who might enter the property.
These states include: Alaska, California, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
However, other states limit the landowner’s duties depending on the “status” of the visitor.
In these states, visitors to the property are broken up into three categories:
An invitee is someone who has the property owner’s direct or assumed permission to enter the premises. Invitees are generally people like family member, friends, and neighbors. This level of visitor requires the highest level of reasonable care for the property reasonably secure for the invitee.
A licensee is someone who has the property owner’s direct or assumed permission to enter the premises, however, is entering onto the land for their own reasons. A classic example of a licensee is a salesman. The owner is only required to warn the licensee of the dangerous conditions if the property owner knows about the condition and the licensee is not likely to notice it on their own.
A trespasser is someone who has no right to be on the owner’s property. In these states, the owner has no responsibility for the trespasser unless they’re a child. In such a circumstance, the owner is required to tend to any reasonable risk of harm to children that were created artificially on the land, such as a swimming pool.
States that still distinguish between these three types of visitors include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland*, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina*, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.
Since these rules can be rather complicated, it’s a good idea to work with a local lawyer who is experienced with premises liability.
Proving a Premises Liability Case
In order to recover money in a premises liability case, the plaintiff must typically prove that the owner or manager was negligent. To prove negligence, the plaintiff (person injured) must prove that the defendant (owner) did not act appropriately in this situation. Thus, the plaintiff must show the defendant caused a dangerous condition on the land, or knew about it and failed to correct it or warn others about it.
There must also be a connection between the injury suffered and the dangerous condition. If the damage wasn’t related in any way to the hazardous condition, then obviously the owner or manager would not be liable.
Contributory Negligence - When It's Not Only the Owner's Fault
Premises liability does allow for contributory negligence. Therefore, if the plaintiff contributed to the accident in any way, they may have the final reward reduced. For example, if the plaintiff tripped on a dangerous staircase, but the defect was visible to the plaintiff, they may be found to have contributed to the accident. There are also various other conditions that vary on a state-by-state basis, so make sure to bring any concerns up with your lawyer.
Common Premise Liability Cases
Premises liability covers a wide range of issues. The following are the most commons cases involving premises liability:
● Dog Bites: An owner may be liable for injuries that result from their dog biting a person on their property. Some states require the owner to have notice of a prior bite incident or a dog’s aggressive or violent nature. However, most states do not require any notice for the owner to be liable for the dog bite. Some states have labeled certain dogs inherently dangerous and have made the owner responsible even without prior notice of a dog’s violent propensities.
● Slip and Falls: Many people suffer injuries from slipping on a wet floor, an uneven surface, icy sidewalks, or other tripping hazards. An owner of the property might be liable for these injuries if they failed to take care of the property. To be responsible for the injury, the owner or possessor must have caused the condition, knew about it, or should have known about it.
● Dangerous or Defective Playgrounds: When children suffer an injury on a playground, there may be dangerous or damaged equipment causing the injury. When these occur, the plaintiff can sue the owner or manager responsible for the playground and its maintenance. If it is proven that they knew or should have known about the dangerous equipment, they will be liable.
● Swimming pool injuries: Safety measures must be taken to protect those using a pool. If an owner of a pool fails to take steps to protect the swimmers, they may be liable for any injuries suffered. Public and private pool owners have to follow a set of rules set out by the state and federal governments in order to ensure its safety.
● Improper Security: Patrons at a bar, residents in an apartment building, and other distinct types of properties are entitled to be protected from known dangers. These entities have a responsibility to protect those on their property from known or foreseeable criminal activity. Improper security means that the injury could have been prevented if appropriate security was provided. In many cases, liability can be proven by demonstrating the owner knew of the crime or that similar crimes have occurred in the area. Therefore the owner should have anticipated it.
● Dangerous Conditions: The owner or possessor must protect any person allowed to be on the land from dangerous conditions. They must continuously inspect and repair hazardous conditions on the land or post a warning.
● Attractive Nuisance: If children are injured by an object that is known to attract children, the landowner or manager may be liable. Children are known to be pulled towards things, such as a trampoline or small pond, and therefore the owner should anticipate children coming onto their land. By having an attractive object on their land, the landowner must ensure their property is clear of any dangerous condition that could injure a curious child.
Who is protected in a Premises Liability Case?
First and foremost, if the landowner invited you onto the land, you will be protected. The landowner must protect guests from and warn them of any condition that may cause injury. Additionally, landowners
Trespassers have different rules that apply to them. In most cases, trespassers cannot recover for damages because they have no right to be on the land. In this case, the landowner or possessor must simply avoid intentionally hurting the trespasser. However, if the owner has reason to expect trespassers, they must give reasonable warnings of known dangers.
Steps To Take For a Premises Liability Lawsuit
Step 1 - Gathering Information and Proof
People are responsible for damages that occur to others while on their property. Let’s dive into some of the specifics.
Once you receive medical treatment, you should begin preparing for the legal process. This includes finding any pictures that may have been taken of what caused your injury. These will help to prove the condition actually caused your injury. Also, track your medical treatment so it is easier in the future to provide this information to your attorney.
Step 2 - Finding a Lawyer
The next step in the premises liability process is finding a lawyer. When looking for a lawyer, don’t just type into Google “personal injury lawyer.” It’s just too broad. You want expertise specifically within the premises liability space. Ideally, it would be great to find a lawyer who’s already tried a case with your specific injury.
For example, was it a slip and fall? Dog bite? Etc.
Step 3 - Filing the Lawsuit
It’s now time to file the lawsuit. Assuming you have a lawyer representing you, your involvement will be minimal. The other side (defendant) will contact your attorney for specific information and documentation. Your attorney will likely reach out to you for this information, so be prepared to assist with this. You will not be required to be present for a majority of the court or legal proceedings. The only times your presence is needed are depositions and potentially for a settlement conference. During the deposition, the defendant’s attorney will ask you questions, and you have to answer them.
Step 4 - Settlement or Trial
Once you are further into the lawsuit, the two sides will begin negotiating a settlement. This may take some time, and it also may never materialize, so be patient. Your attorney must notify you to present any offer made for final approval or rejection. If the parties cannot settle, they may choose to go to mediation or arbitration for a third party to help resolve the case. A trial is held if all else fails.
Finding The Right Lawyer For Your Premises Liability Case
A lawsuit involving an injury suffered because of another’s actions will be an emotional and exhausting process. With this in mind, don’t just pick the first attorney with whom you meet. You and your attorney must work well together. A great personal injury attorney will not only guide you through the legal aspect but also be there for you when things may become too emotional for you to handle. Many attorneys in personal injury recognize they are not only their clients’ lawyer but also their therapist. Dealing with a premises liability injury and lawsuit can be one of the most challenging times of your life; make sure you have the best lawyer that you will be able to rely on.