Business owners, as well as homeowners, have a responsibility to keep their property safe. If you are injured on someone’s property, like in a slip-and-fall accident, you may have reason to file a premises liability lawsuit. When property owners fail to maintain a reasonably safe property, they can be held liable for any injuries suffered. It can be complicated, and there are many aspects involved, so if you have been injured you will need the help of a personal injury attorney to collect the damages you are entitled to.
The Centers for Disease Control says there are as many as three million elderly people injured by falling each year. It further says 800,000 of them were hospitalized with broken bones or brain injuries. Slips or falls are the number one cause of fatal injuries in the construction industry, and they rank pretty high for most injuries. Almost all hip injuries are caused by falling, and falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.
In many of these cases, the accidents, and resulting injuries, could have been avoided if the property owner had taken appropriate action to fix a safety hazard. When you or a loved one is in this situation, you have grounds for a premises liability suit.
Premises liability defined
A good example of this type of injury is something like a slip and fall injury, when debris, ice, water, or other objects are not cleaned up properly. The property owner should have known about the problem and should have fixed the issue. When the property owner fails to do this, they can be sued for negligence in a premises liability case.
These cases apply to businesses and private property, and they can also involve workplace injuries, though that often falls under a workers’ comp claim.
Negligence is a term that has a slightly different meaning, but almost all premises liability cases are negligence cases as well. Premises liability relates to the unsafe property itself. Negligence enters the picture when the property owner knew about the problem but did not address it in a timely manner. Premises liability relates to an unsafe condition on the property itself. Negligence involves the charge that the owner failed in his responsibility to keep his property safe.
States have laws that vary slightly when it comes to liability issues. Some of these rules make cases much harder to win. There are five types of negligence and states vary in how these are defined.
Comparative negligence is when the injured person was partially responsible for the injury that occurred. In that case, the amount awarded would be cut by whatever percentage the injured person was at fault.
Contributory negligence systems state that if the injured person was responsible to any degree at all, they cannot receive payment for damages. Many states no longer use this system.
Comparative and contributory negligence are a combination of the two. You may not receive any damage if you were more than 50 percent at fault. The damages awarded may be cut by the percentage of the injured person who was at fault.
Gross negligence is when there is a disregard for the safety of others. Regular negligence means a person failed to act, but it was not intentional. Gross negligence could include intentional acts or a lack of concern.
Vicarious negligence is when a defendant is responsible for someone else. If a minor child causes an injury, the parent can be held liable, or if an adult’s dog bites someone, they are liable for that injury.
Premises liability is involved in each of these different types of negligence. States may have different ways of interpreting these types of negligence, and that could affect how hard or easy your case will be to win.
In order to win a case, there are certain things you have to prove or certain conditions have to exist. In a criminal case, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt must be established. Personal injury cases are not as strict, but you must still prove that, based on a “preponderance of evidence”, what you are claiming likely happened.
There are several things that must be proven in these cases.
- On the property legally. The injured person must have either expressed or implied permission to be on the property. If you go to a restaurant, it is implied you have permission. In most cases, a person trespassing would not have legal recourse to sue if they were injured, but there are some exceptions.
- The danger exists. You must prove that the hazard was actually there. If you slipped on water and were injured, you must prove the floor was wet. This alleges the property owner did not meet safety standards. The property owner has a duty to maintain the safe property as much as possible.
- Breach of duty. This is the key point of any lawsuit. It alleges the property owner failed in his duty to maintain a safe property. The owner either knew about the problem, or should have known, and did not take action to fix the situation. Failing to notify customers that a floor is wet would be an example.
- Possession. The plaintiff must prove who actually owned the property, or who controlled the property. A business that is in a rented building, for instance, could end up suing both the business operator and the building owner depending on the maintenance contracts. Whether the plaintiff had control over the property is the issue.
- Damages. There must have been an actual injury, and there must be actual damages that can be compensated. If you had no medical expenses or other expenses, you have nothing to sue for.
You will have to prove each of these five items, and some are more difficult than others. It is easy to prove you have an injury and that you have medical expenses, but it may not be as easy to prove where or why the injury happened.
General or Premises liability
Another term that may matter more to lawyers, but could still affect your case, is the idea of general liability as opposed to premises liability. Premises liability refers to the property itself, and the dangers that are there. In a premises liability case, you would be alleging the owner failed to maintain the property in a safe manner, which caused the injury.
General liability is much broader and involves more than the property itself. The general liability would be product liability, where someone was injured by a faulty product you sold them. This could also apply to getting food poisoning in a restaurant. In both cases, negligence has to be proven, and something like a slip and fall accident could be involved in either scenario.
Premise liability relates to the property itself. This is part of general liability, but general liability covers additional areas. In either case, negligence is key to any lawsuit.
Types of visitors
The law concerning premises liability gets complicated, and there are even different classifications of visitors, which can affect your case if you are injured. States have different rules here, but the general idea applies to all injuries.
Trespassers are almost always not included in premises liability. Children are an exception, as the law believes a child might wander onto a property innocently, and it is due to the right to expect safe property. There are also rare cases where a trespasser might have a case if it can be proven the property owner maliciously intended to harm them. If a trespasser is injured by a booby-trap you set, you will be liable for injuries. If a trespasser is injured, you have a duty to call for medical attention, but you do not have a duty to provide first aid yourself.
There are two other types of visitors who have a right to the expectation of basic safety, and they can sue if they are injured on your property.
An invitee is someone who is at a company for the purpose of doing business. This could be a shopper at a store, a contractor, or a delivery person. It could also be an employee in some cases. A licensee is someone who is there for non-business purposes, such as someone using a restroom at a business. This would also apply to guests in homes facing issues that the iPad is not charging.
In some states, there is a difference in legal requirements for the property owner. In either case, the property owner has a responsibility to provide a safe space and to fix any problems that could be a hazard. If the injured person is an invitee, there is no requirement that the owner knows about the hazard. It is implied that the owner is responsible for finding and fixing issues. A licensee, however, must prove that the business or property owner knew about the hazard, and that can be difficult.
Types of hazards
There are a lot of different types of injuries that could happen on your property. Something like a slip and fall accident is the most common a house or apartment, but there are many types of injuries that could happen either in a home or at a business.
Here are the most common types of hazards.
- Snow and ice can cause a person to slip and fall. When the property owner does not remove snow and ice from public walkways, they can be held liable.
- Maintenance. Property owners have a duty to keep their property safe. Things like accumulating leaves, overgrowth, can increase the chances of someone being hurt.
- Dog bites are a common injury. Property owners are responsible for their dog’s behavior, whether on their property or not. Whether your dog bites someone in your home, or while out loose on the street, does not change your liability.
- Lack of security. You have a right to expect safety at a business or an apartment complex. Failure to have security measures in place would be considered negligence. If someone were assaulted in such a situation, they would have grounds for a lawsuit.
- Moving devices such as escalators or elevators also need to be maintained. Failure to maintain those can cause injury and the business owner is liable.
- Wet floors are a very common hazard in many businesses. Businesses have a responsibility to post warning signs, and to clean up the spill as soon as possible. This is one of the most common reasons for slip and fall accidents.
What to do if you are injured
If you are injured on business property, or at someone’s home, of course, the first thing to do is get medical attention. You should report your injury to the business owner, and hopefully, they will fill out an incident report. Get a copy of this for your records. Do not tell anyone you are OK or comment on the seriousness of your injuries.
Eyewitnesses and photographs can help your case a lot. Take pictures with your phone. Keep in mind that you will need to prove the business owner was negligent in some way. If you were warned of a wet floor and stepped on it anyway, you may not have a case against the owner.
Beyond that, keep receipts of all your medical bills and any other related expenses. Testimony from doctors and other experts can also be used as evidence for your case.
If your expenses are significant, or if you miss time at work, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your case. The lawyer can help you determine whether you should proceed with legal action. The consultation is usually free, and the lawyer is paid as part of your settlement. Most cases are settled out of court, but you need a lawyer who is willing to go to court if necessary to get adequate compensation for your injuries.