Simply put, premises liability is the legal theory that 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 law requires that property owners ensure the safety of any person who enters their property, as well as take all reasonable measures in order to accomplish this. As a legal concept, premises liability is generally 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 frequently based on the legal concept of negligence, similar to many personal injury claims. The legal term negligence refers to a person failing to exercise reasonable care, given the circumstances, with that failure resulting in the damage or injury of another person. Negligence is more concerned with a person’s failure to take certain precautions and actions, as opposed to the person’s direct actions.
In order to prove negligence, and as such premises liability, the plaintiff generally must prove all of the following elements:
- The property owner owed a duty of care to the visitor or person who was injured on their property;
- There was a dangerous, unsafe, or defective condition located on the owner’s property;
- The owner was aware of the dangerous, unsafe, or dangerous condition, but failed to remedy and/or warn of the situation; and
- The injury occurred due to the owner’s failure to exercise their duty of care in order to prevent the accident, as well as any resulting injury.
Generally speaking, a duty of care is owed to another person in any situation in which a person may foreseeably be injured due to another person’s actions, or inaction. A breach of this duty occurs when one person, such as the property owner, does not act as reasonably or prudent as another person would under similar circumstances.
Because of this, it must be proven that the property owner’s negligence was the “actual and proximate” cause of the injuries that are being claimed This is also referred to as causation. 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.
When Could A Bus Line Be Held Liable For Injuries To Passengers?
Drivers and operators of buses owe an exceptionally high duty of care to protect passengers from injuries. Although the bus line itself is not an insurer against accidents, it will be held liable for any degree of neglect or lack of care which results in injury to its passengers. Most of these injuries occur while getting on and off the bus, or from sudden stopping and starting of the bus.
In order to legally recover for injuries which occurred while entering or exiting the bus, there must have been some defective condition which the bus driver or bus line knew or should have known about. This could be anything from a badly worn step to an icy step.
An example of this would be how a passenger may be able to recover when the heel of their shoe got caught in a raised piece of steel in the bus, and they tripped and fell as a result of the condition that the bus line should have addresses. Another example would be how a passenger may be able to recover for injuries associated with trying to get off the bus, when they slipped and fell on a slippery step which had no handrails.
A passenger who is boarding a bus is presumed to have reached a place of security or safety when they have entered the door of the bus. Additionally, the bus driver has no duty to keep the bus stationary until the passenger is seated. However, a bus company could be liable if it started the bus with such violence that a passenger who was otherwise exercising reasonable care was injured.
An example of this would be how a passenger who was standing and holding onto the back of a seat was thrown to the floor by a sudden stop of the bus. The bus line could be found liable because there was supporting evidence that other passengers were similarly affected, and some of them were also thrown to the floor when the bus suddenly stopped.
Passengers who are seated in the bus may be able to recover for injuries that they suffer from negligent sudden starts or stops. An example of this would be how a passenger may be able to recover when a person was running toward the bus and the operator stopped, applying the brakes so suddenly that the plaintiff was thrown forward from their seat against the seat in front of them and sustained serious injuries.
Are There Any Legal Defenses To Premises Liability?
If the bus driver or bus line 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. These damages generally include, but may not be limited to:
- Pain and suffering;
- Future and present medical bills;
- Lost income or loss of earning capacity; and/or
- Punitive or treble damages.
The property owner, in this case the bus line, may also be ordered to repair or fix the dangerous condition that led to the plaintiff’s injury.
If you own a bus line and find yourself facing a premises liability claim, there are some legal defenses available to you. The most important defense will be to prove that you were not actually negligent. Some other examples of common defenses include:
- Assumption of Risk: This defense can arise when the plaintiff was aware of the risk, and disregarded the risk, which caused them to assume the risk of being injured. The plaintiff is barred from receiving any damages if they knowingly and voluntarily assumed a risk of harm associated with the negligence of the defendant.
- This remains true even if the defendant was negligent and/or reckless. It is generally necessary to prove that the danger was obvious, or that the nature of the conduct was inherently dangerous;
- Contributory Negligence: The defense of comparative or contributory negligence may be asserted, as these defenses allow a judge or jury to consider the plaintiff’s fault in an accident as opposed to just the defendant’s fault. It allows them to reduce monetary compensation, or in some cases, deny it altogether.
- Contributory negligence specifically states that if the plaintiff is found to be at all negligent in the incident, they cannot recover any damages at all. This law has been steadily replaced with other laws in most states; and
- Comparative Negligence: This defense states that the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to their injury; meaning, they are partially negligent in their own injury, and as such will only receive a partial amount of the damages award as opposed to the award in full.
Do I Need An Attorney If I Have Been Injured As A Bus Passenger?
If you were injured while utilizing a bus line, you should consult with an experienced and local personal injury lawyer. An attorney will be familiar with your rights and legal options according to your state’s specific laws. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.