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Your Rights in a Premises Liability Claim

Filing a Legal Claim After a Slip, Trip or Fall

Premises LiabilityWhen you visit someone else’s property, for either a social visit or commercial purposes, you have a right to expect that the premises will be maintained in such a way as to minimize your risk of injury. The duty owed by owners and others is part of a body of law commonly referred to as “premises liability.” When a property owner fails to take reasonable steps to protect the safety of visitors, an injured party may have a claim for damages in a premises liability lawsuit. The most common type of premises liability cases are those involving slips, trips, and falls.

What Is Premises Liability?

Under laws governing premises liability, which are generally enforced at the state level, owners and certain other parties with control of real property have a duty to take reasonable measures to prevent visitors from being injured. If they fail to do so, and you are hurt as a consequence, you can file a personal injury claim for a wide range of losses, including wages and income, physical pain and suffering, medical bills not otherwise covered, loss of companionship or consortium, loss of enjoyment of life, and property loss or damage.

Who Is Covered by Premises Liability Laws?

Any person injured while legally visiting residential or commercial property may have a claim for damages if their injury was caused by the failure of the owner (or other person in control of the property) to take reasonable steps to remove or warn of some hazard on the property. Liability for premises claims may extend to anyone who had the authority and/or ability to maintain the premises, including owners, property managers, landlords, and tenants.

Common Examples of Premises Liability Claims

Premises liability claims can be based on a variety of hazardous conditions, including:

  • Slips and falls on wet, icy, or slippery floors, sidewalks, stairs, driveways, parking lots, or other thoroughfares
  • Slips, trips, and falls on broken or uneven steps, stairs, sidewalks, concrete, pavement, blacktop, ramps, or other walkways
  • Slips, trips, and falls on torn carpet or linoleum, broken tiles or floorboards, or other dangerous or defective flooring
  • Injuries caused by dangerous, defective, or inadequate lighting on the premises, including trips and falls, as well as muggings and other attacks that might have been prevented by proper lighting
  • Injuries caused by inadequate security on property

The Legal Basis of Premises Liability Claims

Premises liability claims are based on a legal theory of negligence. Under this approach, the person in control of the property has a duty to take reasonable steps to maximize safety on the premises, including removal or warning of any hazards or dangerous conditions that might cause injury. To successfully recover compensation, an injured person must show that:

  • The defendant failed to act reasonably in not removing or warning of a hazardous condition;
  • The defendant’s failure to take reasonable steps caused an accident; and
  • The plaintiff, as a result, suffered injury and actual losses.

The Duties of Property Owners

Old Status-Based Approach

The duty owed by a property owner or other person in control of the premises varies from state to state. Until recently, the duty in most states depended on the injured party’s status at the time of the accident–whether they were a trespasser, invitee, or licensee. As of 2022, fewer than half of U.S. states continue to follow this approach, and it is rapidly becoming obsolete:

  • Trespasser—A trespasser is someone who enters property without legal permission or legal right to do so. They are owed no legal duty; therefore, a trespasser who is injured by a hazardous condition has no legal claim against the property owner. Note, though, that a property owner/occupier may not intentionally or recklessly harm a trespasser and may have a higher duty if trespassers are known to be common on the property or if the trespasser is a child.
  • Invitee—An business invitee is someone who enters property for the benefit of the owner, like a customer of a business establishment. A public invitee is someone who enters property open to the public, like a park or government building. Owners or occupiers of property owe invitees a duty to inspect the property and take reasonable steps to keep the property safe for visitors.
  • Licensee—A licensee is someone who comes onto property with the permission of the owner or occupier, including social guests. Most jurisdictions that follow the old status system for premises liability cases say that owners/occupiers have a duty to fix or warn about any concealed hazards a licensee doesn’t know about or wouldn’t be expected to discover.

New Reasonable-Person Standard

In recent years, most states (including California, New York, and Illinois) have moved away from the status-based approach in favor of applying a negligence-based “reasonable person” standard in premises liability cases. Under this standard, an owner/occupier must warn others about any hazards the visitor couldn’t reasonably be expected to discover on their own.

An injured party’s claim can even be based on a hazard the owner/occupier was not actually aware of, as long as the condition that caused the injury was one the owner/occupier should have known about if they had exercised proper care. In other words, a property owner or other defendant can’t avoid liability by claiming they didn’t know about an unsafe condition on the property if that lack of knowledge was because the defendant failed to reasonably inspect and maintain the property.

Summary

The owner or occupier of real property, whether residential or commercial, has a duty to anyone legally visiting the premises to take certain steps to minimize the risk of injury. The extent of the duty varies based on law applicable in the jurisdiction where the property is located.

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