Premises liability is a branch of U.S. tort law that holds the owners, managers and occupiers of property (“Property Owner”) liable for injuries and accidents that occur on their premises. People at large are unaware that the property owner will be held liable for accidents, mishaps and injuries that occur on his or her property.
Under the legal concept of premises liability, the Property Owner has a duty to provide a reasonably safe environment for those who visit or reside on their premises. While premises liability includes slip/trip & fall situations, it also covers a broad spectrum of other cases such as animal and dog bites, dangerous property, swimming pool accidents and restaurant liability, because premises liability would cover any injury resulting from an unsafe condition.
Responsibility for a Property Owner
A customer may want to hold a supermarket liable if they slip and fracture their leg because of the oil spilled on the floor. Multiple factors influence the determination of the liability of the Property Owner in premises liability cases including the legal status of the visitor, whether the visitor is trespassing, condition of the property, actions of the Property Owner and visitor, and whether fault is attributable to both parties. It is important to know that the premises liability may also apply to the possessor of the land and not only to the owner of land.
The person who owns or possesses the property is called the Property Owner, and those who enter into the premises of such Property Owner are referred as “Visitor(s)”. Visitors include:
- Invitee: someone who is invited onto the property of another i.e. Customer to a grocery store;
- Licensee: someone who enters a property for his own purpose, or as a guest, and is present with the consent of the Property Owner; and
- Trespasser: someone who enters a property, without the consent of the Property Owner and without any right to do so.
Property Owners have a duty to provide a reasonably safe environment to invitees and licensees, and can be held liable if they fail to fulfil that obligation. However, a Property Owner owes very little to a trespasser as, they enter the property, without any right to do so.
Negligence: What a Property Owner needs to be aware of
Property Owners can be held liable under premises liability where they knew (or should have known) of a hazard on their property and did not take any remedial actions such as correct the hazards within a reasonable amount of time or post a warning for the Visitors.
Essentially, Property Owners should take remedial steps towards taking care of the hazard that exists as soon as they have notice of the hazard, to avoid the liability attached. If a Property Owner has knowledge of a hazard which could cause injuries and they refuse or fail to correct the problem, liability may attach onto a Property Owner if a Visitor is injured due to the unattended hazard on their property. This constitutes as negligence, which is the underlying key factor in personal injury cases. Victims of any resulting accident may file a premises liability law suit against the Property Owner.
Property Owners and Children
The duty to warn for a Property Owners is different with respect to children who are trespassing on their property. If the Property Owner is aware that children are likely to come onto their property then they have a duty to warn them of conditions that are likely to result in death or serious bodily injury. The Property Owner must exercise reasonable care to protect children from the harm, as children, because of their youth cannot appreciate the danger that is presented by the condition. Thus, a Property Owner’s liability for injuries caused to children trespassing on their property is also known as the “attractive nuisance” doctrine.
Trespassing and Property Owners
Property owners owe a duty towards discovered or anticipated trespassers to warn or protect them from concealed, dangerous, artificial conditions. There is no duty to warn of natural or artificial conditions that do not involve a risk of death or serious bodily harm. When a property owner should reasonably know that trespassers are consistently entering his land (e.g. frequent trespassers using a footpath to cut across the corner of a property), the property owner owes a duty to the anticipated trespasser, regardless of land possessor’s actual knowledge.
Elements affecting the premises liability claim
Multiple elements are taken into consideration while proving the premises liability claim such as:
- Whether the Visitor entered the property with the consent of the Property Owner;
- Whether the Property Owner had a duty to provide a reasonably safe environment towards the Visitor;
- Whether the Property Owner knew or should have known of a hazard on their property;
- Whether the Property Owner failed to discover or correct any hazards/ adverse conditions within a reasonable amount of time; and
- The Property Owner failed to prevent the hazard which caused injuries/unrepaired damaged.
According to the latest available Judicial Business report, in the U.S. District Courts, 63,564 cases were filed in 2018, which is almost 10,000 more cases than the previous year. Regardless of the seriousness of the injury, proving a Property Owner’s liability and holding them ultimately responsible for their actions focuses on questions of duty, breach, and proximate cause.
The nature of obligation of a Property Owner varies with the kinds of visitors. If a Visitor is not trespassing, then the Property Owner has a duty to take reasonable care towards the safety of the Visitor. Duty of Property Owners towards children is generally greater, as children cannot be expected to act in the same manner as adults. Accordingly, Property Owners are expected to be prepared for children to be less careful as compared to adults. Those who have been hurt due to negligence may pursue compensation for their damages in an injury claim or lawsuit against the responsible party or owner of the property.
By Utkarsha Nikam, Attorney
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