Premises Liability: When May You Hold a Property Owner Liable for Your Injuries?
Under California law, a person who is injured due to an owner’s negligent management of his or her property may be entitled to compensatory damages. However, determining negligence depends on certain circumstances, including the duty the owner owes visitors to ensure their safety. A lawyer explains how this duty can shift with the context of the situation, citing an accident at an Orange County amusement park as an example.
Under California law, several standards exist with which to define negligence, or the failure to exercise ordinary care. While determining negligence in a car accident case requires a certain set of criteria, a premises liability case requires another. Property owners have a duty to ensure conditions do not exist on the premises that could result in injury to others, whether guests to a residence, customers in a store, or visitors to an amusement park. For example, the scope of premises liability varies from slip-and-fall injuries in convenient stores to fatal accidents at theme parks like one that occurred several years ago in Orange County, explains a lawyer.
If someone is injured on another person’s property, four elements must be established to determine if that person was negligent: duty, breach of duty, injury, and causation. It must be shown that the property owner had a responsibility to take measures to ensure visitors to the premises would not be harmed. The injured party must then provide evidence that the property owner neglected to fulfill his or her duty and that this negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the injuries, for which compensatory damages may be sought.
Establishing the property owner’s duty is somewhat dependant on the circumstances of the case. For example, a person who has never invited over a guest cannot be expected to be as careful as a storeowner who is continually having people in his or her store every single day. A person who invites guests to his or her home for a casual visit has no obligation to routinely inspect but he or she can be considered negligent if he or she knows or should know of a danger and doesn't correct it or warn guests about it.
There is an exception to injuries sustained at a residence concerning trespassing: when a trespasser comes to someone's land and is injured, the landowner is considered negligent only in very limited cases where he or she created a hazard or where he or she knew of a hazard and knew of trespassers who could potentially be harmed by it.
By contrast, storeowners are held to a high standard of care or duty to ensure visitors’ safety. A person who is injured after having been invited to a store or invited somewhere to do business is owed the highest duty and the storeowner can be considered negligent if he or she failed to inspect the premises regularly and make it safe or warn of dangers.
Given that millions of people visit amusement parks annually, their owners and operators are also held to a high standard of care. Although accidents at theme parks often involve product liability and personal injury, premises liability may also be a factor, explains a lawyer. This was the case in 2003, when a young man was killed on a roller coaster at an Orange County amusement park after it malfunctioned due to improper maintenance. Park employees were aware of mechanical problems with the ride in the weeks preceding the accident and repair efforts were made; however, due to failings in employee training, ride operators put the ride back into service despite tags indicating to keep it out. The park ultimately opted for a confidential settlement before the case went to trial.
California law extends civil liability to cases where injury occurred as a result of negligent management of property. However, a determination on whether a property owner was negligent in failing to maintain his or her property depends upon certain circumstances, some of which have been examined in this article. For more information on a specific case, consulting an attorney may be necessary.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Ballidis
For over 35 years, lawyer James Ballidis and the staff at Orange County law firm Allen, Flatt, Ballidis, and Leslie have been helping the victims of accidents. During this time, he has written extensively on the injury claims process.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.