Understanding Premises Liability and the Legal Rights

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Premises Liability

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Accidents won’t come with a bell on its neck. It could happen any time. When it is in the middle of a joyful shopping spree or at a friend’s birthday party, it might be more jarring.

Premises liability holds a property owner responsible for any damages caused to an individual while on his property. It is applied in personal injury cases where a victim sustains the injury in a premise owned by another individual or organization.

The Premises liability law is applied in all the US states for injuries or accidents taking place in any premise. According to the law, it is the responsibility of the owner of the premises to provide a safe environment so that people who come onto the property don’t suffer an injury.

To be more specific, sustaining an injury in a premise is not just enough to pursue a premises liability claim against any individual or business owner. The victim should prove that the owner of the premise was negligent in providing adequate safety which resulted in the accident.

The liability of the premise may be the responsibility of a landlord, a tenant, an employer, a manager, an occupier, an organization, etc. This would vary according to the type of property and the accident.

Premises liability can extend to any public or private property, including residences, offices, restaurants, theatres, nightclubs, grocery stores, shopping malls, restaurants, nursing homes, sports stadiums, entertainment venues, educational institutions, apartment complexes, public restrooms, nightclubs, parking structures, and more.

Types of Premises Liability Accidents

The following are the commonly reported accidents accommodated under the premises liability law.

  • Animal attacks in private spaces
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Snow and ice accidents
  • Escalator/elevator accidents
  • Trip and fall accidents
  • Accidents at construction worksites
  • Robbery and rape incidents
  • Swimming Pool Injuries
  • Amusement park accidents
  • Fire accidents
  • Injuries to children

Criteria for Premises Liability 

The criteria mentioned below are used to assess an individual’s legal obligation in a premises liability claim.

  1. The visitor’s legal status
  2. The maintenance condition of the property
  3. The conduct of the owner and the visitor
  4. If the person injured is a child
  5. If the person injured is a trespasser
  6. The degree of fault with the owner and the visitor 

Who is liable? 

The liability depends upon the location where the injury happened, the injury victim and the purpose of visit of the victim to the premises.

  1. Business Owner Liability 

The owner of a business is held liable when the injury occurs to any individual in a commercial space. This applies to restaurants, shopping malls, offices, construction sites, retail shops, hospitals, etc. The three main criteria that make a business owner responsible for accidents in his commercial space are:

  • Inadequate security 

This is particularly applicable in parking spaces and other commercial areas where individuals are subjected to rape, robbery, etc. In such cases, the business owner could be liable indicating that he failed to offer proper safety to the customer which caused the damages.

  • Poor maintenance 

Worn carpets, uneven stairs, poorly maintained elevators and escalators, inadequate lighting, slippery floors, etc. are some of the examples of poor maintenance that may lead to injury to the customers or clients.

  • The fault of the employee 

In most of the cases it would be the negligence of an employee which leads to accidents on the property. Spillage of food and drinks in the floor, wet floor, poor lighting, etc. is often found to be the negligence of cleaning and maintenance personnel.

  1. House owner Liability 

The owner of the house is responsible for any accidents occurring in his space. Any individual invited to a house has a legal right to expect to be kept reasonably secure and informed of any possible threats inside the premises. The most common hazards making a house owner liable are unrestrained dogs, broken steps, loose railing, slippery floors, ice, and snow, etc.

  1. Renter and Landlord Liability 

Premises liability law becomes more complicated when it involves a renter or a landlord. In such instances, the liability factor depends upon the type of accident and the hazard.

What type of visitor you are?

The injured individual in a premises liability claim falls into any of the three categories mentioned below. The legal protection and the compensation offered to each of these may vary according to the law observed in each state. 

  1. Trespasser – A trespasser is an individual who is not expected or invited by the premise owner to enter the property. The owner of the premise does not have any legal obligation towards the injury sustained by the trespasser as he enters the owner’s property without consent. However, trespassers entering for business purposes are entitled to compensation.
  1. Licensee – A licensee is a visitor to a property without any business or commercial intention. The licensee visits the property as per the invitation of the property owner or occupant who is responsible to provide a safe environment.
  1. Invitee – Someone who is welcomed onto a property for a commercial reason, is referred to as an invitee. The majority of the premises liability cases involve invitee.

 The Duty of Care in Premises Liability

 To prove the liability in a premises liability claim, the plaintiff should prove the following.

  • The owner of the premises was aware of the dangerous condition or the hazard.
  • The property owner had a negligent attitude towards the hazard.
  • The property owner failed to take reasonable steps to repair or indicate the danger.
  • The hazard caused injury in the victim.

Premises Liability Law in the US

When you encounter an accident on someone else’s premises, it may be necessary for you to file a civil lawsuit against the individual or organization that have caused you harm. In such accidents, it is smart to get the assistance of a personal injury lawyer experienced in premises liability lawsuits.

Liability depends on the laws followed in each state. The statute of limitation under which the claim has to be filed also varies between each state. The amount of compensation received by the plaintiff would depend on the severity of the injury and specific circumstances of the case.

The damages covered in a premise liability claim include medical expenses, lost wages, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of consortium and punitive damages. If the accident results in the death of the victim, compensation for wrongful death would be paid to his dependents.

There are three types of premises liability laws followed by different states in the US. They are

  1. Pure comparative fault

Pure comparative fault is the tort law followed in few states to assign damages in premises liability claims. When both the complainant and the defendant are at fault, the jury assigns fault, normally in the form of a percentage. In pure comparative fault, the degree of carelessness or negligence of the plaintiff would also be considered to determine the compensation.

  1. Modified comparative fault

 Under modified comparative fault, there are two types of rules which vary between different states.

  • 50% bar rule– Followed in some states like Colorado and Maine where the plaintiff is not entitled to premises liability compensation if he is found more than 50% responsible for the accident.
  • 51% bar rule– Followed in some states like Hawaii and Lowa where the plaintiff is not entitled to premises liability compensation if he is found more than 51% responsible for the accident.

“Slight/gross” negligence rule

South Dakota in the US follows slight/gross negligence of modified comparative fault.  As per the law, when the complainant is just slightly at fault and the defendant is gross at fault, damages could be recovered for the injury.

However, the compensation would be in proportion to the degree of fault of the complainant. If the fault of the complainant is found to be more than “slight,” recovery can be impossible.

  1. Contributory negligence

Under contributory negligence, a plaintiff is prohibited from pursuing a claim if his negligence also contributed to the accident. Even if the defendant’s negligence is far more severe, the plaintiff won’t be entitled to proceed with the claim if he is found to have even 1% fault.

The below table illustrates the premises liability law followed by each state in the US

Pure Comparative Fault
Alaska Arizona California Florida Kentucky Rhode Island
Louisiana Mississippi Missouri New Mexico New York Washington
Modified Comparative Fault
Arkansas Colorado Connecticut Delaware Georgia Hawaii
Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Maine
Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Montana Nebraska Nevada
New Hampshire New Jersey North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon
Pennsylvania South Carolina Wyoming Tennessee Texas Utah
Vermont West Virginia
Modified Comparative Fault with slight/gross Negligence
South Dakota
Contributory negligence
Alabama Virginia Maryland North Carolina D.C.

The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

This law covers the premises liability claim involving trespassing children who get attracted by some objects in the property. Kids are generally curious and do not realize the dangers associated with attractive things like a swimming pool or a trampoline.

As per the attractive nuisance doctrine, the property owners are responsible to safeguard children from dangerous hazards on their property. Any negligence in this aspect may be held liable for accidents of children on the premises.

The plaintiffs in such lawsuits would be either the child or a parent. The plaintiff should prove that there was some hazard in the property which attracted and caused the child to enter the premises and get injured. Many states like Indiana and Georgia follow this doctrine whereas in some states like California, the law is abolished.

Premises Liability in Government Premises

When an individual encounters an injury in public property, the government could be held liable. The premises liability claim could be pursued against the county, city, state, or federal government, depending upon the ownership of the property.

Hazards like open pits and potholes in the road, defects in public sidewalks, poor road conditions, etc., can cause accidents for which the government agency could be held responsible. The Federal Tort Claims Act helps citizens to pursue injury claims involving federal government-owned properties. On the other hand, several State immunity acts are also active in the US to cover injury claims involving state government properties.

Final Thoughts

In the wake of an accident that happened to you in someone else’s property, don’t get panic. Report the accident immediately to the owner or manager of the premise. Seek medical attention without delay.

Even if the premises owner try to establish that the fault was with you. Never get discouraged. Collecting evidence of the accident and exhibiting the proof of injuries through medical records would help you in the claim. A skilled premises liability attorney can help you to gain a deserving payout to compensate for your damages.

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