What is Premises Liability and Who Pays for My Injuries?

Learn what premises liability is, what to do if you were injured on someone else’s property, and how to file a personal injury claim for compensation.

Premises liability is a legal concept that means a property owner is financially responsible for causing someone to suffer an injury on their property.

A premises liability injury can arise in a host of different situations, such as slip and fall accidents, dog bites, or swimming pool accidents. The premises may be a business, government, or residential property.

No matter the exact scenario, you can usually file an insurance claim for your personal injuries. Whether or not you see any compensation can depend on proving the property owner was negligent.

Some premises liability cases are more difficult than others. When a claim entails severe injuries, allegations of shared fault, wrongful death, or other complications, you’ll usually need a personal injury lawyer to get a fair settlement.

Types of Premises Liability Cases

Premises liability cases involve a person suffering an injury while on another person’s or entity’s property. The injury might be from a slip, trip and fall, faulty playground equipment, dog bites, or other causes.

Premises liability can apply on almost any property type, including: 

Even from just this short list, you can see that premises liability cases can involve a variety of different fact patterns and parties.

As we discuss below, the one thing all these cases have in common is that a property owner failed to fix a hazardous condition that existed upon its property.

When this occurs, the property or business owner responsible for causing your injuries is considered the liable party.

Determining the Liable Party

The first step in premises liability cases is to determine who may have caused your injuries.

Premises liability often falls to the owner of the property where you were injured. While this is usually the case, sometimes a property owner leases its land to others, or another entity comes to occupy the owner’s property.

Of an owner, lessee, or occupier of property, the liable party is typically the entity that controls the area where you were injured.

For example, an owner of a commercial building may lease a portion of the property to a department store. If you fell on the store’s stairs, the store is likely liable for your injuries since the stairs were under its control. By leasing the property, the owner transferred control of the property to the store that leased it.

In these cases, the word “control” typically means that a party had a duty to inspect a piece of property and make sure it was reasonably safe for those upon it.

Consider another example where a fitness club rents a piece of property from a particular owner. If a club member injures themselves on a piece of equipment, the club is the liable party. Here, the club, and not the property owner, had the duty to ensure its equipment was safe for its guests to use.

Liability with Common Areas

Sometimes people or companies will rent or occupy a portion of the property while the property owner retains control over certain common areas.

An example is an apartment building. Renters of each apartment unit are in control of that space and will absorb responsibility for any injuries within the unit. However, the apartment complex owner will typically retain control of common areas like stairways, elevators, entryways, and exits.

Keep in mind again that control typically means responsibility for any injuries. So, when an owner keeps control over a common area, and you suffered injuries while in that area, then the owner is responsible for your injuries.

This scenario is not limited to apartment buildings. Owners of shopping malls, condo buildings, amusement parks, and the like all usually involve a common area over which the property owner retains control separate from the business owners who may occupy the property.

Renting Property with Dangerous Conditions

In addition to common areas, property owners are liable for a person’s injuries if they rent out a property with an unsafe condition and don’t disclose it to the renter.

For example, a shopping mall owner may rent a commercial space to a candy store while knowing that a portion of the space contains faulty wiring. If someone is later injured because of the wiring, and the owner never warned the candy store of the situation, the owner bears liability for the injuries. This is true even though the candy store was in full control of the space.

Please keep in mind that if the property owner tells the store about the condition and then fixes the wiring, the candy store will then assume responsibility for any injuries.

Proving Fault in Premises Liability Claims

Fault in personal injury cases is typically based on a showing of negligence. According to most state laws, the same applies in premises liability cases.

To receive compensation, injured parties have to prove that a property owner (or a lessee or occupier of the property) acted negligently or without reasonable care.

Elements of a negligent property or business owner:

  1. Duty of care: A property owner had a duty to keep their property safe for others
  2. Breach of Duty: The owner breached its duty by acting unreasonably or failing to take some reasonable action to fix a dangerous condition
  3. Cause: The owner’s breach caused your accident and injuries
  4. Damages: You suffered specific injuries in your accident, which you can support with evidence.

Nearly any hazard can give rise to a premises liability case.

Examples of hazardous conditions:

  • Wet floors from spilled liquid in a grocery store
  • Restaurant employees not properly trained in food handling
  • Amusement park operators that ignore safety restrictions on a ride
  • Faulty stair railings in a department store
  • Aggressive dogs that are not leashed or restrained when outdoors
  • Inadequate security in a high-crime area
  • Icy stairs leading into an office building

Proving Negligence in Premises Liability Cases

Joe is walking down a sidewalk in his residential neighborhood. He stops in front of a home near his own and begins to admire the home’s recently remodeled front porch.

Joe takes a few steps into the neighbor’s driveway to get a better look at the porch. Suddenly, a large German Shepherd races from the backyard and sprints towards Joe.

As Joe turns to run, the snarling dog jumps on him and they both fall to the ground. The homeowner immediately appears and drags his dog off of Joe. While the dog goes unharmed, Joe suffers a fractured hip from the fall.

Another neighbor was trimming her bushes and witnessed the unprovoked attack. She called 911 and stayed with Joe until paramedics arrived.

The total cost of his medical expenses is $25,000 and he has to miss three months of work. The lost work amounts to $18,000 in lost wages.

Following his injury, Joe comes to learn the dog has a reputation for acting aggressively. For example, it bit a person once before, and frequently chases after other neighborhood pets. Joe also learns that the dog owner purposely doesn’t keep the dog leashed or tethered, despite not having a fence around his property.

Through his attorney, Joe files an injury claim against the neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance policy, seeking $65,000 in damages.

The neighbor had a legal responsibility to keep their property safe from known hazardous conditions. The neighbor likely breached this duty because, even though they knew their dog was aggressive, they purposely failed to keep the dog under control.

Given these facts, it’s more than likely that Joe will succeed with his claim.

Premises Liability Based on Status of Visitors

Most states currently determine fault for premises liability cases on the basis of negligence. However, some still adhere to an older system of rules that determine liability on the status of the injured person.

These states generally divide all visitors into three general categories – invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Property owners owe each class of guests different duties when it comes to the safety of the owner’s premises.

Invitees

Invitees are people who have a property owner’s permission to be on the property. Examples of invitees include social guests like family and friends.

Property owners usually have to provide a safe environment for this class of people. If they fail to do so, and an invitee is injured, then the property owner is typically responsible for the injuries.

Licensees

Licensees are people that have a property owner’s permission to enter the property, but do so for their own purposes. Examples include delivery people, salespeople, and landscapers.

Property owners generally owe licensees a duty to warn them of dangerous conditions on their property that create an unreasonable risk of harm.

This duty is often limited to those cases where:

  • The property owner knows of the dangerous condition
  • The licensee isn’t likely to learn of it

If owners fail to warn of certain hazards, then they’re responsible for any injuries of the licensees.

Trespassers

Trespassers are those people that enter someone’s property without the owner’s permission. Property owners generally have no duties to trespassers. There is an exception for trespassing children, known as the attractive nuisance doctrine.

If we return to the example with Joe, he is technically a trespasser because he entered his neighbor’s property without permission. As a result, the homeowner could make the case that they weren’t negligent because they had no duty to make their property safe for trespassers.

State laws that determine fault based on the status of visitors can grow quite complex. We recommend consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney if you were hurt on someone’s property and your state adheres to these laws.

Limitations on Liability

Many states have comparative negligence laws that can work to limit your claims of negligence.

Comparative negligence laws act as a defense for property owners by saying an owner’s degree of fault is reduced or eliminated if you helped contribute to your accident.

Perhaps, for example, you slipped on a store’s icy sidewalk while wearing high heels. If you were to blame the store owner for your accident, the owner’s insurance company would argue that you were comparatively negligent since you were wearing inappropriate footwear for the weather.

In most states, you can still recover money if you were partially to blame for your accident. However, your ultimate compensation will get reduced by your percentage of fault.

Let’s say your slip on the icy walk resulted in $10,000 worth of injuries. If you were found to be 10 percent to blame for the event because of your shoes, then you’d still receive compensation. However, you’d receive $9,000 as opposed to the full $10,000.

Getting the Personal Injury Compensation you Deserve

People who are injured on another person’s property because of the owner’s negligence are entitled to receive compensation.

In particular, accident victims can receive payment for:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages – past and future
  • Property damage
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Pain and suffering

If your premises liability case is fairly straightforward, you can probably handle your claim without an attorney.

The best way for you to recover for your losses in a premises liability case is to file an injury claim with the business or property owner’s insurance company.

Filing a claim is not that difficult of a process. You’ll first send a letter to the at-fault party and their insurance company to notify them of your intent to pursue compensation for your injuries.

Once you calculate all of the losses in your case, you’ll submit a demand letter to inform the insurance company of your position and the amount of money you wish to settle your case for.

Relatively minor injury claims are often settled after a few rounds of negotiations with the insurance adjuster. If you don’t settle, all is not lost. You may still pursue compensation against the property owner.

If the facts of your case are complex, you suffer from serious injuries, or you need to file a premises liability lawsuit, it’s a good idea to discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney.

Most experienced injury attorneys offer free consultations.  You can get many of your questions answered without spending a dime.

Also, personal injury law firms usually work on a contingency fee basis. This fee arrangement means that you don’t have to pay attorney fees unless you settle your claim or receive a favorable outcome in court.

Don’t let a property owner, or their insurance company, bully you out of receiving the compensation you deserve. Contact a premises liability attorney today and get help in recovering your losses.

Dustin Reichard, Esq. is an experienced attorney with 20 years of work in the legal field. He’s admitted to the Illinois State Bar and the Washington State Bar. Dustin has worked in the areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, slip and falls, and general liability. Dustin began his legal career as a JAG... Read More >>