Why Does Status Matter in a New Jersey Premises Liability Case?


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New Jersey has a traditional common law approach to premises liability cases. The status of the person on the property has a significant impact on the case and dictates what legal duty the property owner owes him or her.

What Is a Premises Liability Case?

Premises liability refers to the laws regarding accidents that occur on other people’s property and when the property owner is liable for these accidents. Premises liability cases may arise when a person slips and falls, trips, is attacked or injured in other ways when on the property of another.

What Statuses of Visitors Are There?

The three major types of visitor type include a business invitee, licensee and trespasser. The duty owed the injured party depends significantly on which category they fall under.

How Does the Status of the Visitor Impact the Case?

The level of care that a property owner owes the victim is based on the status of the injured party. The business invitee corresponds with the highest standard of care. A business invitee includes a potential customer in a store even if he or she ultimately does not buy anything. A business invitee is owed the highest duty of care because he or she is there for the monetary gain of the property owner.

A property owner owes the business invitee the duty to keep the premises safe for the public and free of defects. The property owner must repair any dangerous conditions on his or her property and warn visitors of hidden defects.

Licensees are individuals who are legally on the property of another. This includes social guests. The duty to this type of visitors is lightened with the property owner not having to inspect the premises. However, the property owner is legally obligated to warn these guests of known dangerous conditions on the property.

A trespasser is only owed a minimal duty of care because he or she is not on the property legally. The property owner only owes such trespassers the duty not to intentionally or recklessly cause harm to the trespasser.

Based on these categories, the duty the property owner owes the injured victim can be more or less in certain situations. In some circumstances, a property owner may be held liable for the injuries that a visitor sustains while in the same circumstances he or she may not be simply based on the status of the visitor.

Additionally, New Jersey law recognizes that property owners may owe a duty of reasonable care toward a visitor if the imposition of this duty is fair and reasonable under public policy considerations. There are also special rules for certain types of property owners and injury victims.

Balancing Test

The New Jersey Supreme Court has held that if an injured victim does not fit specifically into one of the classifications that a court should perform a full analysis by using a balancing test. The court should consider the relationship of the parties, the nature of the risk, the opportunity for the property owner to exercise care and the public interest in the determination.

Attractive Nuisance Principles

If a child is trespassing on the land and is injured, the principles that apply to him or her may be different than the standards used for adults. Property owners owe a higher duty of care to trespassing children when child trespassing is reasonably foreseeable, the property owner has reason to know of the danger on his or her property and the child would be unable to protect himself or herself from the danger. These principles apply when a property owner has a man-made condition on his or her property that is known to attract children to it. The property owner in these situations owes a duty to take steps to prevent injury.

Dangerous Conditions on Public Property

Public entities can be held liable for injuries if the injured party can show that the property was in a dangerous state at the time of the injury, his or her injury was caused by the dangerous condition and it was reasonably foreseeable that the dangerous condition would result in the type of injury the victim sustained. Additionally, the injured victim must show that an employee created the dangerous condition or the public entity was aware of the dangerous condition for enough time that they had the opportunity to cure the defective condition.

Legal Assistance

A New Jersey premises liability lawyer can analyze your case and determine which classification of visitor you were at the time of your injury and use this information to establish the property owner’s duty of care and breach of that duty.

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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.

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