Premises liability holds property owners responsible for accidents and injuries that happened on their property. This includes any accidents and injuries that occurred in and around their business, or in their home.
Premises liability laws require that property owners ensure the safety of any person who enters their property, and take all reasonable measures in order to accomplish this. As a legal concept, it is commonly associated with personal injury cases in which a person’s injury was caused by unsafe or defective conditions on someone else’s property.
These claims are commonly based on the legal concept of negligence, as are many personal injury claims. Negligence refers to a person failing to exercise reasonable care, with that failure resulting in the damage or injury of another person. Additionally, negligence focuses on a person’s failure to take certain precautions and actions, as opposed to their direct actions.
In order to prove negligence, and therefore premises liability, the plaintiff must prove the following elements:
- The owner owed a duty of care to the person injured on their property;
- There was a dangerous, unsafe, or defective condition on the owner’s property;
- The owner knew of the dangerous, unsafe, or dangerous condition but failed to remedy the situation; and
- The injury occurred due to the owner’s failure to exercise their duty of care to prevent an accident and resulting injury.
A duty of care is generally owed to another person in any situation in which a person may foreseeably be injured due to another’s actions, or inaction. A breach occurs when a person, such as the property owner, does not act as reasonably or prudent as another person would have acted under the same circumstances.
As such, it must be proven that the property owner’s negligence was the “actual and proximate” cause of the injuries being claimed. Once the other three elements have been proven, the plaintiff must then prove that there was some quantifiable loss or damage resulting from the property owner’s negligence.
Who Can Be Held Legally Liable?
Landowner liability depends on the tort liability status of the victim; a tort is a legal term that describes a violation in which someone causes damage, harm, or injury to another person. Tort liability refers to who is responsible for this damage, harm, or injury. It is important to note that a victim may be held liable if they contributed to their own injury, apart from the actions of the property owner and their negligence.
The tort liability scale can be broken down as follows:
- Invitees: Customers or patrons who have been invited onto the property by the owner. As such, the property owner has a duty to warn all invitees of risks that they are aware of, if the risk of harm is considered to be unreasonable. Additionally, the property owner has a duty to inspect the premises in order to make themselves aware of any risks;
- Licensees: Social guests that have entered or remained on the property for purposes other than business. These parties have special permission to do something on, or with, the property owner’s property. The property owner is responsible for warning licensees of any dangerous conditions that they are aware of, and if the licensee did not know or did not have a reason to know about the dangerous conditions; and
- Trespassers: People who have entered or remained on the premises without the permission of the property owner. State laws governing trespassing vary; in general, a property owner does not have a duty to warn any trespasser of dangerous conditions. This is especially true if the property owner is unaware of the trespasser’s presence on their property. However, property owners do have a duty to warn known or tolerated trespassers of any dangerous conditions.
Special duties apply to child trespassers, in that property owners must take special precautions in order to prevent harm to child trespassers; this is because of the attractive nuisance doctrine. What this means is that if the property owner has something on their property that would attract children to use it, such as a swing set, they must take reasonable precautions to make sure the swing set is safe because it is likely to attract children.
If the property owner is found to be negligent, or if they breached their duty of care to prevent an accident or injury from occurring on their property, the plaintiff may be awarded damages such as:
- Pain and suffering;
- Future and present medical bills;
- Lost income or loss of earning capacity; and/or
- Punitive or treble damages.
The property owner may also be ordered to repair or fix the dangerous condition.
Can I Be Held Liable If Someone Is Injured Off Of My Property?
While a property owner is liable for injuries that occur on their property, they may also be held responsible for injuries that occur both on and off their property. There are some especially common instances of property owners being held liable for injuries that occurred off of their property.
An example of this would be how fallen tree branches that strike a passerby could be the property owner’s fault. Another example of this would be a landowner’s tree roots raising a sidewalk, and causing pedestrians to slip and fall.
A landowner can be held responsible for injuries that occurred off of their property when the injury resulted from something that the landowner did or did not do to their land. An example of this would be a landowner’s property that butts up against a road. If they cleared and cultivated the land, but did not consider that the property was on higher ground and the runoff water and mud spilled onto the highway, they may be held liable for drivers who cannot stop due to those man-made conditions.
Many states now hold property owners liable for fallen branches that could have easily been prevented through proper pruning and maintenance. Another example of potential liability for a property owner would be failing to trim grass, weeds, or bushes. If overgrowth lessens the visibility of a blind corner, or of highway or street signs, any injury resulting from a driver’s inability to see could be the fault of the landowner.
Ultimately, responsibility is based on where the tree or bush is growing. If its roots are based on your property, then it belongs to you and as such it is considered to be your responsibility.
In many cities, trees and plants on the sidewalk belong to the city and as such will be the city’s responsibility to maintain. However, you must check your property line in order to ensure where your responsibility begins and ends. This is because your property may not end at the fence, and you could discover that you are responsible for more land than you assumed. Property owners are expected to know the limits of their property, and the excuse that they were unaware of their property limits will not generally free them from liability.
Do I Need An Attorney For Injuries To People Off Of My Property?
If someone has been injured as a result of some condition on your property, you should contact a personal injury attorney immediately. Your lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.