Establishing a Premises Liability Case for Personal Injuries

Here’s what defines a premises liability case in a variety of scenarios, and how to gather the right evidence to support your injury claim.

American law provides many bases for personal injury lawsuits. If someone injures you as a result of their carelessness, you can bring a claim for negligence.

Suppose, though, that you’re injured when you slip on a puddle while shopping in a grocery store.

A store employee sees what happened. They maintain that the water was spilled by another customer. They reason that the store can’t be responsible for your slip and fall accident or resulting injury.

In this case, the employee is probably wrong. Property owners are generally responsible for the safety of people on their property. This legal doctrine is known as premises liability.

Property owners must make sure that their premises are safe for invited guests. They should also consider people who might foreseeably be on the property. Owners who allow or create dangerous conditions are liable for the injuries those conditions cause. While exceptions exist, this rule is well established in personal injury law.

This article will examine the serious injuries that result from dangerous conditions. We’ll also discuss important legal aspects of premises liability cases. Finally, we’ll share the types of evidence that a premises liability attorney will be looking for in your case.

Injuries in Premises Liability Cases

injured hand

The basic feature of all premises liability cases is that the injured party was hurt on someone else’s property. This may sound like a simple enough idea, but the category is broad.

You may have a premises liability claim if you were injured by: 

  • Slip and fall or trip and fall accidents.
  • Hazardous features of the property. Some features, like a swimming pool, have inherent danger when not protected or supervised.
  • The intentional behavior of the property owner (e.g. booby traps).
  • Intentional or negligent actions of the employees or agents of a property owner.
  • Inadequate security (e.g., a mugging in a badly lit parking lot).

Falls often result in a variety of injuries, ranging from broken arms or muscle sprains to traumatic brain injuries (TBI), broken hips, and back injuries.

Negligent property owners may be to blame for dog bite injuries to young children.

Poorly maintained equipment in gyms or playgrounds can result in amputations, crushing injuries, puncture wounds, and more.

The law often considers property owners to have dominion and control over what happens on their properties. If an owner allows an unsafe condition to exist on their property and that condition harms someone else, there will be premises liability (with a few exceptions).

Legal Aspects of Premises Liability Cases

car parked outsideIn premises liability cases, there are key legal doctrines to keep in mind. Below is a discussion of those concepts, as well as the kinds of cases in which they’ll come into play.

1. Duty of Care

In most premises liability cases, one of the crucial legal questions will be the property owner’s duty of care to the injured person.

A property owner has a legal responsibility to the people on their property to take reasonable care in ensuring the safety of their premises.

The word reasonable here does a lot of heavy lifting. What’s reasonably safe depends on the circumstances. This will be different for a preschool than for a construction site.

A construction site can reasonably contain conditions that could be hazardous. Most would agree that visitors should exercise more caution there due to tripping and falling hazards. By its very nature, a construction site isn’t all that safe for visitors.

A preschool, on the other hand, needs more precautions. Where small children are involved, a swimming pool can be deadly. The failure to secure it may be a breach of duty. The standard for what’s acceptable will be much higher here.

2. Legal Status of the Injured Person

The fact that you’re injured doesn’t automatically mean you can file a premises liability claim or lawsuit against a property owner for any injury. Apart from a breach of the duty of care, the injured person usually has to establish that they had the right to be on the property. Most states distinguish between three types of people: invitees, licensees, and trespassers.

Invitees

Despite the name, a person does not have to receive an actual invitation to be an invitee to a property. An invitee is someone who comes to the premises to confer an economic benefit on the owner. A customer would be an invitee. So would someone who didn’t actually purchase anything but was there to shop.

Invitees can also just be people on the property if it’s open to the public.

Invitees usually enjoy the highest protection of the law in premises liability cases. If they can show negligent behavior by the property owner that resulted in an injury, that’s usually sufficient to win.

Licensees

Licensees usually have a slightly more difficult time proving premises liability claims. They are generally social guests, friends, and family members.

A licensee who’s hurt on a property might not have a claim against the property owner if, for example, the owner has leased the property to someone else (e.g., a unit in an apartment complex). Unless they were hurt by an unnoticeable hazardous condition, they probably won’t be able to recover against the property owner.

Even if an injured person can’t sue a property owner on a premises liability theory, they can still try to bring a lawsuit against the renter or person who controls the property and was responsible for the hazardous condition.

Trespassers

The third legal category of people is trespassers, or those on the premises without the permission of the owner. In most cases, trespassers can’t be compensated for injuries.

There are exceptions. Consider the example of booby traps. If you know that a trespasser is on your property and you create a dangerous situation that’s not obvious (e.g., a shotgun triggered by opening a door), you may be liable for injuries that result from that booby trap.

A property owner may also be liable for injuries to trespassers if the trespass is foreseeable and the hazard, even if not intentional, isn’t obvious to trespassers.

Most states allow injury claims on behalf of children who are injured while trespassing under an Attractive Nuisance Doctrine. An Attractive Nuisance is a feature on the property (like an unfenced trampoline or swimming pool) that may be irresistible to youngsters.

Gathering the Necessary Evidence

CCTV camerasIf you’ve been injured on someone else’s property, you need to act quickly. The first job you have is to get evidence to support your claim. Consider retaining an experienced personal injury attorney in this process. They’ll have a good idea of the best evidence to collect and the easiest ways to get it.

The first thing you need to have for any personal injury claim is medical bills and other treatment records. Without being able to show medical treatment, you won’t get very far in your personal injury case.

You also need evidence showing the property and the specific hazard that caused your injuries. Photos and videos are helpful. It’s important to get this evidence as close to the time of injury as possible so an insurance adjuster or jury can understand the circumstances as they existed at the time of your injury.

Always check for security cameras that might have captured your accident. You should make sure the owner of those cameras knows to preserve the films or security footage. In fact, it’s a good idea to make an evidence preservation request to the owner in writing.

In addition to this evidence, you’ll need evidence of lost wages and earning capacity.

Also, don’t forget evidence of your non-economic damages, like pain and suffering or other significant effects on the enjoyment of your life.

Holding Property Owners Responsible

You have a right to expect that the places you go will be reasonably safe environments. You shouldn’t have to worry about wet floors, rickety stairs, or poor lighting that results in an injury. This is the reason premises liability laws exist.

If you or a loved one were hurt by a dangerous property condition, take action as soon as possible. Consult a qualified personal injury lawyer in your state for a free case evaluation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the Martindale.com rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>

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