Property owners are obligated by law to provide maintenance and reasonable care of their property in order to ensure that it is safe from dangerous conditions. It is important to note that depending upon how an individual is entering the property, the owner’s duty may change.
There are three general categories for an individual’s duty of care, which includes:
- An invitee;
- A licensee; and
- A trespasser.
A legal duty is imposed upon a property owner to prevent serious injuries from occurring on the premises, known as premises liability. It is important to be aware that states do differ on the duties which are owed to individuals entering a property and how they should be categorized.
Because of this, it is useful for an individual to research local laws in their state for the correct application of the rules for a property owner’s duties and responsibilities. In addition, a property owner is required to inspect their property and adequately repair any unsafe conditions as well as provide warnings regarding those conditions.
Even if a property owner is unaware of a dangerous condition on the property and fails to fix it, they may still be held liable for any injuries which result from that condition.
How to Determine What Type of Duty is Owed?
As previously noted, there are three main categories of individuals who enter a property and the owner’s duty will vary depending upon what category they fall into. An invitee is the category of individual who is owed the highest duty of care.
Invitees are individuals who are invited to a property for a business purpose. Pursuant to this standard, the property owner has a duty to repair and fix any known dangers.
In addition, the owner is obligated to inspect for, discover, and fix any unknown dangerous conditions in those areas of the property where invitees may have access to. For example, store keepers owe a duty of reasonable care to customers to be able to safely use the restrooms on the premises.
The second category is a licensee. A licensee is an individual who is on a property for social reasons or for their own purpose.
The level of care is lower for a licensee than for an invitee. Property owners are only required to take reasonable care to protect licensees from known dangers on the property.
However, the property owners are not required to inspect for and discover any unknown dangers. For example, if an individual hosts a party at their home and they invite an individual to their home, the guest is considered a licensee on the property.
The last category is trespassers, or individuals who enter property without permission. A property owner does not owe a duty to a trespasser who enters onto their property. However, the property owner cannot willfully injure the trespasser.
It is important to be aware that if there are frequent trespassers on their property and the property owner is aware of the trespassing, the property owner may be held liable for injuries which an individual sustained that were due to an unsafe condition on the property.
With regarding to trespassers, certain conditions must be present for a property owner to be liable, including:
- The dangerous condition exists because the property owner maintained it or created it;
- The hazardous condition that was present was likely to cause serious bodily harm or death; and
- The landowner failed to warn the trespassers of the condition and the risk present.
It is important to note that these guidelines change when they are applied to trespassers that are children. For example, if a child wanders off and injures themselves because of a dangerous condition on the property, the property owner can be held liable.
Because of this, it is important for a property owner to ensure that their property does not have hazardous conditions which may attract nearby children to their property. The property owner has a duty to inspect the premises for safety as well as repair any dangerous conditions which are known.
What Are Some Types of Premises Liability Cases?
There are several different types of premises liability cases which fall under the category of personal injury liability, including:
- Slip and fall cases;
- Snow and ice accidents;
- Inadequate maintenance of the premises;
- Unsafe conditions and defective conditions on the premises;
- Lack of building security that can lead to an injury or an assault;
- Elevator and escalator accidents;
- Dog bites;
- Swimming pool accidents;
- Amusement park accidents;
- Water leaks or flooding; and
- Toxic fumes or chemicals.
Is a Store or Office Liable for Falls on Improperly Lighted Stairways?
An office or a store has a duty of ordinary care to keep stairs and steps in reasonably safe condition in order to prevent harm. A failure to warn or to take precaution from dangers has been held by courts to be a breach of ordinary care.
The store or office may be held liable for negligence if they breach this duty of care and someone is injured as a result. It is important to note, however, that just proof of a fall without other evidence will not result in the store or office being held liable.
In general, a store or office is not required to have notice of improper lighting in order to be held liable for an injury, so long as the issue is a permanent condition. If, however, the lighting issue was a temporary condition, notice is required.
Notice is also required if the injured party claims that the stairway was dangerous, not only due to the improper lighting but also due to additional defects. For example, a store has been held liable for injuries which occurred on an improperly lighted stairway that was used by a customer.
In this example, the customer was injured when they tripped down the stairs which had no lighting and only dirty windows which did not allow sufficient light to come through.
What is the Definition of Negligence?
For legal claims, negligence refers to an individual’s failure to use reasonable care which results in injury or damage to another individual. A court will determine the meaning of reasonable care by comparing the actions of the defendant against other individuals who are found in similar situations.
Are There Any Limits to the Store’s Liability?
The duty of ordinary care for a store or office only applies to areas in which customers are permitted to be. In addition, the duty only applies to:
- Customers and individuals who are accompanying them;
- Prospective customers; and
- Individuals who are on the property for other business purposes.
Individuals who are on the property who are not connected to the business may not be permitted to recover for their injuries. For example, an individual who was injured on a stairway that was not lit in the rear of a shoe store was able to recover for their injuries.
This individual was searching for a dressing room and was told by a store employee to go back as far as possible and make a left turn. The individual went through a curtained doorway, into a dimly lit stockroom, and into a dark area where the open stairway was located.
The court allowed the individual to recover for their injuries even though they entered a restricted area because they followed the instructions of an employee and, therefore, had the right to assume the area would be reasonably safe.
Should I Consult an Attorney about Store or Office Liability from Falls on Improperly Lighted Stairways?
It is essential to have the assistance of a slip and fall attorney for any issues involving store or office liability from a fall on an improperly lit stairway. Proving this type of care may be very difficult and the business may have defenses to liability.
Your attorney can advise you regarding the applicable laws, possible defenses, and the possibility of recovery for your injuries. They will also represent you if you are required to appear in court.