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What is Premise Liability?

When someone gets hurt in a slip and fall incident, could the person who owns the property where it occurred be held responsible? In many cases, victims seek justice by pursuing civil premises liability lawsuits based on the fact that businesses and other property owners failed to maintain safe facilities. It's not always clear, however, where the responsibilities of companies and other property owners lie. Here's how premises liability works and what it might mean for different cases.

Premise Liability Basics

The idea of premise liability appears in many laws and court judgments. Legally, a premise or premises is held to be a piece of land and any of the buildings on it, such as a retail store and its surrounding parking lot. According to laws like the Illinois Premises Liability Act, property owners owe their visitors a duty of reasonable care for the state of their property.

Courts have also found that business operators need to work to keep certain premises safe for visitors such as customers and other people they allow into their companies. This duty may be even higher for business owners who operate facilities like entertainment and amusement venues.

What Is Legal Negligence?

Someone is negligent when they don't live up to reasonable standards of care or precaution that other people would exercise in similar situations. In order to label someone as negligent, courts need to establish that:

  1. The accused owed their accuser a legal duty,
  2. The accused failed to live up to that duty,
  3. The accuser suffered harm to their property or person, and
  4. The accused person's failure of duty led to the accuser's injury.

Negligence can play a role in many premises liability cases. For instance, a court may decide that a business owner had a duty to act because they knew that not doing so could harm their customers. Or, they might have taken actions that increased the chances of harm or promised to protect their consumers and then failed to do so.

Defining the Limits of a Property Owner's Premises Liability

The standard of reasonable care varies from state to state. Some laws also prohibit certain business owners from being held responsible for specific duties, such as providing warnings about obvious hazards.

These limitations exist for various reasons. For example, in South Carolina, lawmakers relaxed certain liability laws in order to encourage property owners to let the public use natural resources for recreational activities. Property owners who do so aren't responsible for guaranteeing that their premises are safe, improving their premises for safety reasons or taking on liability for injuries that people sustain on their property.

There are many other forms of premises liability limitations. For instance, Washington offers immunity for individuals and organizations that operate emergency shelters. In Illinois, property owners aren't deemed responsible for removing natural buildups of snow or ice from their premises or warning people that they might occur. They may, however, be held negligent if they create conditions that lead to excessive buildups, such as poorly designed sidewalks or gutters. Other states, like Massachusetts, let towns create their own bylaws defining who's responsible for winter weather premises hazards.

How Can Victims Tell If They Have a Case?

Although looking at state and local laws is always a good start, there are a few common exclusions that define owners' liability:

  • Trespassing: Property owners usually aren't responsible for injuries sustained by people who entered their property illegally or without their knowledge.
  • Predictability: Injuries caused by accidents that property owners couldn't have predicted, such as freak acts of nature, usually aren't the owner's responsibility. If, however, the owner didn't adhere to building codes or maintain premises that could withstand expected natural disasters, then the victim might have a case.
  • Precautions: In many states, certain property owners don't have to warn visitors of known hazards, dangerous conditions, or the risks of misusing their premises, equipment and facilities. Some are even excluded from needing to take steps to protect people from risky conditions and defects on their premises.

Speak to an Experienced Premises Liability Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified premises liability lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local premises liability attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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