The owner or tenant of a property is responsible for maintaining a relatively safe environment. This is known as “premises liability.” For example, a courier delivering a package can sue you for injuries if he slips and falls on your property because of snow.
Liability is determined by the laws and procedures of the state in which the injury occurred. In some states, the court focuses on the injured person’s situation to determine liability. In others, the focus will be on the conditions of the property and the actions of the owner and the injured person.
The legal status of the visitor: guest, authorized person, or intruder?
In states that focus on the status of the property visitor, three categories are contemplated:
- Invited. A guest is invited onto someone else’s property, such as a customer in a store. This invitation implies that the owner or possessor of the property has taken reasonable steps to ensure a safe environment.
- Authorized person. This type of visitor enters a property for their purposes and is present with the owner’s consent. An example is a door-to-door salesperson.
- Trespasser. An intruder enters the property without any right to do so. An example is a thief.
In many states where the liability analysis focuses on the injured person, there is a tendency to distinguish only between those who lawfully enter the property (guests and authorized persons) and those who lawfully enter the property (trespassers).
Property Conditions and Visitor Actions
In states where the condition of the property and the actions of the owner and visitor are taken into account, the owner is required to exercise a reasonable level of care for the safety of visitors, but not trespassers.
The landlord must inspect the premises for dangerous conditions and repair or post warnings. An owner can be held liable if they become aware of a hazardous situation, fails to take reasonable steps to repair that condition (or warn visitors), and a visitor is injured as a result.
To determine if an owner has taken proper care, several factors must be evaluated:
- the circumstances under which the visitor entered the property;
- the use is given to the property;
- the foreseeability of the accident or injury that occurred;
- the common sense used by the owner or keeper to remedy the dangerous situation or warn visitors.
Trespassers on a property
If the owner knows that trespassers are likely to enter the premises, they may be required to give reasonable warning to prevent injury. This requirement applies only to artificial conditions that the owner has created or maintains and knows are likely to cause severe injury or death. For example, if a leak onto a property’s sidewalk and the water turns to ice in the cold, the property owner could be liable if an intruder trips and falls.
Children on a property
A property owner or possessor must post warnings if they know (or should know) that children may be on the premises and that hazardous conditions exist that could result in serious bodily injury or death.
Comparative fault: when both parties are negligent
Visitors must exercise reasonable care for their safety. Otherwise, his negligence may limit or reduce the plaintiff’s compensation. Most states adopt a “comparative fault” system in personal injury cases. This means that an injured person’s compensation will be reduced by a percentage equal to their liability in the incident. Thus, if it is decided that the injured party was 25% at fault in the accident and the total damages are $10,000, he will only receive $7,500.
Special rules for landlords and owners
There are special liability rules in cases of landlords (owners) of real estate. A landlord is not liable to a tenant, or anyone else, for damages caused by the property’s condition. This general rule is based on the landlord’s lack of control over the property once leased. However, there are several important exceptions.
- Hidden flaws. A landlord is liable for injuries caused by a hidden defect that existed when the tenant took possession of the property, assuming the landlord knew or had reason to know of the fault.
- Repairs. Similarly, if the landlord agrees to repair for the tenant’s benefit, the landlord must do so without negligence.
- The landlord opens property to the public.
- Lessor retains control of facilities.
How to Get Legal Help for a Premises Liability Injury
If you or a family member has suffered a premises liability injury, you should consult an experienced attorney for advice and ensure your legal rights to compensation are protected.