Have you suffered an injury while on someone else’s property? Perhaps you got bit by your neighbor’s dog or slipped and fell at the grocery store. When injuries like this happen because of unsafe conditions on the property, you may have a legal case under an area of law called premises liability.

Premises liability law deals with property owners’ and occupiers’ responsibilities to keep their property reasonably safe for visitors. If they fail to do so and someone gets hurt, the injured person can sue for compensation for their medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Let’s examine the key aspects of premises liability law to help you understand your rights. If you suffered injuries, never wait to consult a premises liability attorney near you about a possible claim.

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What is a “Premises”?

In premises liability law, a “premises” refers to any property that someone owns or occupies and controls the condition of. It includes all kinds of properties, such as:

  • Homes
  • Businesses and stores
  • Restaurants and bars
  • Office buildings
  • Hotels and resorts
  • Schools
  • Government buildings
  • Parks and recreation areas
  • Parking lots and garages
  • Construction sites
  • Farms and ranches

Pretty much any piece of real estate can be considered a “premises” under the law. The key factor is that someone has possession and control over that property and is responsible for maintaining it.

Duties Owed by Property Owners/Occupiers

Property owners and occupiers (like tenants) have a legal duty to keep their premises reasonably safe for visitors. It means regularly inspecting the property for dangerous conditions, making repairs on time, and warning visitors of any hazards that can’t be immediately fixed.

The specific duties owed depend on the type of visitor:

Invitees: The Highest Duty of Care

When you enter a property as an invitee, you are owed the highest level of care under premises liability law. Invitees are people who are invited onto a property, usually for the owner’s financial benefit. The most common example is when you go to a store to shop. As a customer, you are an invitee.

Property owners must take extra steps to ensure the safety of invitees. It means regularly inspecting the property, quickly fixing dangerous conditions, and warning invitees of any hazards that can’t be immediately repaired. For example, if there’s a spill on a store’s floor, the owner must clean it up right away or put up a clear “wet floor” sign to prevent slips and falls.

Other examples of invitees include:

  • Diners at a restaurant
  • Guests at a paid admission event
  • Customers at a bank or office
  • Contractors hired to do work on the property
  • Delivery persons dropping off packages

Remember, if you’re on a property for the owner’s financial gain and they fail to keep you safe from foreseeable hazards, you may have a strong premises liability claim as an invitee.

Licensees: Permission to Enter

Licensees are people who enter a property with the owner’s permission but for their own purposes rather than the owner’s financial benefit. The most common examples are social guests, like friends visiting your home.

Property owners have a lower duty of care to licensees than to invitees. They must warn licensees of any dangerous conditions that aren’t obvious, but they don’t have to regularly inspect the property for hazards as they do for invitees.

For instance, if a homeowner knows their front steps are cracked and unstable, they should warn visiting friends and family members to watch them. But they don’t necessarily have to repair the steps right away like a store owner would need to fix a broken step that customers use.

Other examples of licensees include:

  • Neighbors attending a backyard barbecue
  • Girl Scouts selling cookies door-to-door
  • Utility workers reading the meter
  • Salespeople making unsolicited visits

If you’re hurt on someone else’s property as a licensee, you may still have a case if the owner failed to warn you of a danger they were aware of. But you’ll face a higher bar to prove negligence than if you were an invitee.

Trespassers: Few Protections

Rusty chain blocking access to a steep, overgrown staircase in an outdoor setting.

Trespassers are people who enter a property without any right or permission to be there. As a general rule, property owners do not owe any duty of care to adult trespassers. This means they are not responsible for most injuries trespassers suffer on the property.

However, property owners can’t intentionally or wantonly harm trespassers. This means they can’t set traps or deliberately create hazards to injure unwanted visitors, and they can’t use excessive force to remove trespassers from the property.

In some states, property owners may have a limited duty to warn certain trespassers of highly dangerous artificial conditions that aren’t open and obvious, like an abandoned mineshaft. But in most cases, trespassers enter at their own risk.

There is one big exception to the rules for trespassers: children. Property owners may be liable for injuries to child trespassers if there’s an “attractive nuisance” on the property. An attractive nuisance is something that might lure curious kids onto the property and put them at risk, like:

  • Swimming pools
  • Fountains or ponds
  • Trampolines
  • Abandoned cars or appliances
  • Construction sites or sand piles

Property owners are expected to take reasonable steps to prevent children from accessing these attractive nuisances and getting hurt, such as installing fences, gates, and locks. If they don’t and a child trespasser suffers injury, the owner may be liable regardless of whether the child had permission to be there.

A visitor’s status can be a complex legal issue in premises cases, but your premises liability lawyer can address these matters.

Types of Premises Liability Accidents

There are countless ways someone can get hurt on another’s property, but some of the most common premises liability accidents include:

Slip and Fall Accidents

Slip, trip, and fall accidents are the most common type of premises liability claim. These can be caused by hazards like:

  • Wet, slippery floors from spills, leaks, or improper cleaning
  • Icy walkways that weren’t cleared or salted
  • Loose rugs, mats or floorboards
  • Uneven surfaces like cracks in sidewalks
  • Cluttered walkways
  • Poorly lit stairwells
  • Missing or broken railings
  • Potholes in parking lots

Stores, office buildings, apartment complexes, and other commercial properties must keep floors and walkways clear and safe for customers and visitors. Homeowners also need to keep their property in good condition for guests.

Inadequate Building Security

Owners of apartment buildings, hotels, office complexes, and other properties are responsible for securing the premises from foreseeable criminal activity. It may include providing:

  • Adequate lighting in parking lots and common areas
  • Security cameras and alarms
  • Secure locks on doors and windows
  • Security guards or doormen
  • Fences or gates around the perimeter
  • Background checks on employees with access to rooms

If someone is the victim of a crime like robbery, assault, or rape because of inadequate security measures, they may have a premises liability claim against the property owner.

Swimming Pool Accidents

Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional death for children. Property owners with swimming pools, hot tubs, and other water features are responsible for keeping them secure and providing safety equipment and supervision as needed.

Pools are considered an “attractive nuisance” likely to attract children, even if trespassing. Therefore, homeowners and public pool operators must take special precautions like fencing, covers, locks, alarms, and clear signage to prevent unauthorized access and accidents.

Amusement Park and Playground Accidents

People go to amusement parks, carnivals, fairs, and playgrounds for thrills and recreation, but dangerous conditions can lead to serious injury. The property owner or operator may be liable if accidents occur because of:

  • Mechanical failures or poor maintenance on rides
  • Improper operation by poorly trained employees
  • Missing safety equipment like seat belts and harnesses
  • Exposed sharp edges or pinch points
  • Lack of posted age, height, and weight restrictions
  • Failure to inspect and maintain equipment
  • Defective design or manufacturing of equipment
  • Inadequate supervision, especially of minors

When you pay admission, you trust that the facility will be properly maintained and operated with the utmost concern for your family’s safety. Premises liability allows you to seek justice when that trust is violated.

Elevator/Escalator Accidents

We rely on elevators and escalators to safely transport us in multilevel buildings, but malfunctions can result in devastating injuries or death. The building owner and/or elevator maintenance company may be liable for accidents caused by:

  • Mis-leveling between the elevator and floor
  • Defective doors that close too quickly or don’t detect objects
  • Falls into the elevator shaft
  • Snapped or frayed cables
  • Sudden drops or lurching motions
  • Getting body parts or clothing caught in escalator steps or gaps

Building owners must ensure elevators and escalators are regularly inspected and kept in safe working order and remove them from service if any problems are detected.

Toxic Fumes or Chemical Exposure

Another major area of premises liability involves toxic substances on a property causing illness or injuries to occupants or visitors. Some common examples include:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty gas appliances or ventilation
  • Lead paint exposure in older buildings
  • Asbestos exposure during construction or remodeling
  • Chemical spills or leaks
  • Exposure to toxic mold from water damage or moisture
  • Noxious fumes from inadequately ventilated labs or factories

Property owners are responsible for maintaining a safe environment and providing appropriate ventilation, containment, warnings, and safety equipment to prevent toxic exposures.

Dog Bites and Animal Attacks

Wooden blocks with "Premises Liability" text in front of a gavel and scales.

In most states, dog owners are strictly liable for any injuries their dogs cause, regardless of whether the dog had a history of aggression or the owner did anything wrong. So long as the victim wasn’t trespassing or provoking the animal, the owner is responsible for the resulting medical bills and other damages.

Some states have a “one bite rule” where the owner only becomes strictly liable after a dog has bitten someone previously or otherwise demonstrated vicious tendencies that the owner knew about. Otherwise, standard negligence rules apply.

Property owners may also be liable for attacks by other domestic animals or wild animals allowed to remain on the property if proper precautions aren’t taken.

Ensure you consult a premises liability attorney who handles claims involving the types of accident and injury you experienced.

Proving a Premises Liability Claim

Winning a premises liability case requires proving the following key elements:

  1. The defendant owned/occupied/leased the property;
  2. The defendant displayed negligent in their use/maintenance of the property;
  3. You were harmed, and
  4. The defendant’s negligence was a significant factor in causing your harm.

Essentially, you have to show that the property owner failed to act reasonably to prevent or fix dangerous conditions they knew or should have known about, which caused your injuries.

“Reasonable care” depends on the circumstances – what a prudent property owner would be expected to do in a similar situation. It comes down to whether the owner made regular inspections, addressed known hazards, followed applicable safety regulations, and took precautions appropriate to the property.

A premises liability attorney can help you gather evidence to prove the owner’s negligence, such as:

  • Photos of the hazardous condition
  • Incident reports
  • Witness statements
  • Surveillance camera footage, if available
  • Maintenance records (or lack thereof)
  • Testimony from employees
  • Expert opinions on the safety of the premises

You’ll also need evidence of the extent and cause of your injuries, including:

  • Medical records and bills
  • Documentation of lost income
  • Psychiatric records if claiming emotional injuries
  • Photos of scars, disfigurement, or disability
  • Evidence of any pre-existing conditions aggravated

Contact a Premises Liability Lawyer Today

Property owners must ensure the safety of their premises for visitors. When they negligently fail to do so, and people get hurt, premises liability law allows the injured to hold the owner accountable and recover compensation for all their damages – medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and lost quality of life.

If you’ve suffered a severe injury due to unsafe property conditions, you need the help of a dedicated premises liability attorney to investigate the scene, gather evidence, deal with the insurance companies, and build the strongest case possible for maximum compensation.

Don’t risk getting less than you deserve – or nothing at all. Contact a personal injury lawyer for a free consultation and case evaluation today. There’s no cost or obligation to learn your rights so you can make the best decision for you and your family at this difficult time.

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