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Premises liability laws involve the duty of a property owner to protect against clear dangers.
If you have been injured on someone else’s property due to their negligence, you may have a premises liability case. Premises liability laws involve the duty of a property owner to protect against clear dangers. While laws and precedents vary from state to state, such premises liability typically involves a direct injury resulting from clear negligence on the part of the property owner.
The property owner or the person managing the property is required to keep the property safe. If the owner of a property knows there are unsafe areas on the property, it's his or her responsibility to fix the problems and keep those areas blocked off until they are fixed.
Liability cases where property owners are found legally at fault require an injury resulting from a dangerous condition on their property that the property owner or person maintaining the property knew about or should have known.
If you're injured on someone's property, and you believe your injury is a result of failure by the property owner to reasonably keep the property safe, you need to act fast. Let the owner of the property know you were injured and seek medical attention immediately. The time available for filing a premises claim is limited.
There’s no guarantee the owner of the property will be liable for the injury. Though many states have laws that protect or expand liability, other states further limit the situations in which property owners may be held responsible for an injury. Getting medical attention right away is critical for your care and also to document the injury and the likely cause. These facts will help an attorney determine whether there is a case against the property owner.
In order for a case to be brought against a property owner, certain things need to have occurred:
In most cases, the plaintiff in a premises injury case must have been an “invitee” of the property owner. This can include, but is not limited to, a number of scenarios, such as:
Unsafe conditions must be clear to an observer. Such examples might include:
The list of situations that create liability are broad, but courts have rejected claims for being related to conditions that, while ultimately unsafe, did not meet the bar for a liability on behalf of a premises owner. Determining a premises owner’s “duty of care” takes careful analysis and experience.
Additionally, an unsafe condition created by the actions of a premises employee can also create liability. Generally, the third party is an employee, as opposed to an independent contractor, and the action must have been performed in line with how the employer had instructed the employee. For example, if an employer requires that employees clean spills, but fails to train them in how to put out a sign warning of the freshly-washed area, someone slipping on that surface could attempt to hold the premises liable. As one legal expert for Baylor University Medical Center noted, business owners have a duty to ensure employees are properly supervised and ensure “problem” employees are not retained. He notes, however, that nothing can “absolutely” prevent a lawsuit against a property.
In short, negligence stems from the failure of a premises owner to warn invitees of, or correct, the unsafe condition. An example is a “Beware of Dog” sign in front of a fence keeping the dog away from trespassers. The property owner would be liable if he or she didn’t have a sign in place when a trespasser was bitten by the dog.
Additionally, a property owner who addresses an unsafe condition can still be found liable if the effort was insufficient. An improperly-repaired stair rail that breaks, for example, arguably creates a more dangerous situation than the original broken rail because the user would believe it's safe. In this example, however, the injured party must be able to show that the rail was improperly fixed, and the property owner knew the rail was incapable of holding a typical user's weight.
There are exceptions to this level of liability. In the state of Georgia, for example, the law protects premises owners from liability when the invitee was on the property for “recreational” purposes. This applies even when the injury was a result of a failure on the part of the premise owners.
The most common scenarios for liability cases against property owners are slips and falls. The National Floor Safety Institute further estimates that “slip and fall” cases account for over 1 million emergency room visits per year, or approximately 12 percent. Among adults over 65, slips and falls were the second highest cause of injury-related deaths, according to research cited by the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health. As the name implies, these are injuries caused when a person falls as a result of slippery or uneven walking surfaces. Slips and falls cost an estimated $50 billion in medical costs in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
As with most cases, liability from a premises owner in a “slip and fall” can be complicated. While a recently-mopped, unmarked section of floor is likely a liability, one federal court in Ohio ruled that a grass-covered hole in the ground was not within a premise owner’s duty of care.
Other injuries that commonly result in liability include: