What Is Premises Liability?
Premises liability is the area of the law dealing with the duty that property owners and occupiers have to protect their visitors from injury. It is most commonly associated with personal injury lawsuits involving slip-and-fall accidents. Cases involving premises liability usually focus on the condition of the property in question, the nature of the injuries involved and the activities of the property owner and visitor. In order to win in this kind of lawsuit, the plaintiff has to show that the property owner or occupier acted negligently. However, simply being injured while visiting a property doesn't necessarily mean that the owner or occupier acted negligently.
The Legal Status of Visitors
Visitors to a property may be classified in three ways:
- Invitees: A shopper visiting a store is an example of an invitee.
- Licensees: A person who enters a property for a specific purpose with the owner's implied or express permission (delivery services, social guests, etc.)
- Trespassers: Trespassers have no right to enter a property. There are certain exceptions for child trespassers, however.
Was the Property Owner Aware of the Danger?
For a premises liability lawsuit to succeed, one usually must establish the owner knew of an unsafe/potentially unsafe condition but failed to fix the problem. This often involves cleaning up spills or other hazardous conditions or posting signs that inform visitors of dangers. However, property owners or their tenants may also violate their duty of care by not performing necessary maintenance, such as replacing faulty light bulbs, or by having inadequate security measures in place. People who were robbed after using an ATM machine have successfully sued banks under premises liability. Likewise, college campuses, shopping malls and hotels can face this kind of litigation when visitors are attacked while on their property.
Situations When Both Parties Are at Fault
Claiming that the visitor acted recklessly and was at least partially responsible for their injuries is a common defense in this kind of lawsuit. The amount of damages awarded may be reduced if the defendant's attorney can demonstrate that the visitor didn't take reasonable care. The way courts apportion blame in cases where both parties acted recklessly is known as comparative fault, and damages are generally reduced according to the degree of the plaintiff's responsibility. In some states, plaintiffs who are considered more than 50 percent responsible for their injuries may not be entitled to any damages.
Premises Liability in Different States
Premises liability laws vary from state to state. Some states have passed legislation that prevents municipalities from being sued by individuals injured in sidewalk accidents, and others allow these lawsuits but place restrictions on the amount of damages that can be awarded. States also have differing ideas about the property owner's responsibility to the various types of visitors. Some states expect property owners to take reasonable care with respect to all visitors while others don't extend this duty to licensees and trespassers.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.