Premises Liability Law

What is Premises Liability Law?

Premises liability law refers to the legal principles that hold landowners and tenants responsible when someone enters onto their property and gets hurt due to a dangerous condition. With few exceptions, premises liability claims are based on negligence, although the doctrine may be applied differently than it is in other personal injury situations. The primary source of premises liability law is state case precedents (known as “common law”). State statutes, municipal ordinances, and local building codes may also be relevant.

Slip and falls are the most common type of accident resulting in premises liability. Causes include wet floors, snow and ice, unmarked obstacles, faulty stairs, and other such dangers. Lawsuits can also result from injuries caused by vicious animals, open swimming pools, broken elevators, or violent customers or guests. To obtain compensation, plaintiffs may be able to file suit against owners, landlords, business owners, easement holders, residential tenants, maintenance companies, and other entities that control or possess the property where the accident happened.

Traditional Approach Based on Entrant Status

A number of courts decide questions of premises liability by characterizing the injured plaintiff in one of three ways, based on the reason he or she entered onto the land. Plaintiffs who entered without permission are given the status of “trespassers.” Social guests and others who entered onto the land for their own purposes are labeled as “licensees,” and those who entered to further the purposes of the landowner, such as business customers, are considered “invitees.” Each group is afforded a different level of protection from harm.

Under this traditional approach, landowners usually have no legal responsibility to keep trespassers safe. An exception is made, however, if the owner knew that trespassers were present, and failed to warn them about hidden and dangerous conditions. With respect to licensees (guests), landowners have a similar duty. That is, they must warn about dangers that people coming onto the land are unlikely to discover on their own. Invitees (customers) are provided the most protection. Landowners must inspect the premises and make sure it is safe for these individuals.

States that follow this approach to premises liability do so as a way of giving landowners and other potential defendants an established set of rules they can use to anticipate their legal obligations. Owners can figure out ahead of time the safety measures they must take to avoid liability for an accident. Despite the predictability it offers, the traditional approach is becoming obsolete in the United States, as a growing number of states have abandoned it in favor of an approach that judges the merits of each case individually.

Modern Trend Reflects a More Flexible Standard

Central to the doctrine of negligence is the idea that everyone in society has a legal obligation to act as a reasonable, prudent person under the circumstances. Regardless of whether the injury resulted from a car accident or a surgical procedure, the defendant is judged by the same standard. The jury will consider all of the facts surrounding the accident, and then decide if a reasonable person in the defendant’s shoes would have acted the same way, or have done something different to avoid the accident.

This concept of a single negligence standard applicable to any factual scenario is quickly replacing the trespasser/licensee/invitee approach. To see the benefit of the modern trend, consider the example of a parking lot owner sued by a customer who was attacked by a stranger late at night. The traditional approach would classify the customer as an invitee and apply a predetermined set of rules. By contrast, the modern trend would consider many factors, such as the local crime rate, the owner’s knowledge of previous attacks, the feasibility of providing brighter lights, security guards, fences, and so forth.

Special Rules and Legal Doctrines

In jurisdictions that still apply the categorical approach to premises liability, a principle known as the “attractive nuisance” doctrine may be available to help child accident victims prove fault. The attractive nuisance doctrine requires landowners to fix dangerous conditions in areas known to be frequented by children, if the children, because of their youth, will fail to recognize the danger. In jurisdictions following the modern trend, this principle is subsumed into the “reasonable under the circumstances” standard.

Litigants should also be aware of the rules of contributory negligence and comparative fault. These doctrines bar or reduce compensation in premises liability cases based on the plaintiff’s own conduct. In other words, an injured plaintiff stands to recover less if the defendant can show the plaintiff could have avoided the accident by exercising more caution. In most states, the jury will be instructed to assign a percentage of the total fault for the accident to the plaintiff’s carelessness, and reduce the damage award accordingly.

Hiring a Lawyer to Pursue or Defend a Claim

Because premises liability law differs from state to state, victims should seek advice from a local attorney. If you have been injured on someone else’s property, you may be entitled to compensation, but you must act quickly to meet the time deadlines for filing a claim. Schedule a consultation with an injury lawyer today.


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Articles About Premises Liability

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    In serving alcohol, bars and restaurants walk a fine line; they must serve enough to make a profit, but not so much as to endanger customers. Victims in bar fights frequently hold the venue in which the fight occurred liable. But is it really the proprietor's fault if visitors misbehave?
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  • Premises Liability Injuries in Washington DC
    Premises liability involves another’s property possessing various hazards and dangers that harm a person when he or she is on the land or in the building. In Washington D.C., it is important that the victim of the incident pursue an injury claim to pay for medical expenses and provide for any lost income while recovering.
  • New York Cases Involving Slips and Falls on City Sidewalks
    Slips and falls on sidewalks in New York is common and these incidents occur in greater numbers where the population density is higher. When an accident happens, the person may need to know what to do, who is involved and what options are available to pursue if the slip or fall is damaging enough that medical attention is necessary.
  • Construction Site Injury and Expert Witness Testimony and Reports
    The reports and testimony that an expert witness provides is crucial in construction site injuries where an employee or bystander harmed from the site presses a claim in civil court. The expert needs to explain to the judge or jury how the incident occurred, what injuries exist and why treatment requires compensation.
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    Gates and fences often cause accidents whether they are electric, slide open or require a key to open, and these barriers may harm a person to the point he or she must seek medical attention. When the gates or fences possess defects, a lawsuit may arise where damages are owed to the injured party through the use of a lawyer and expert witness.
  • Dog Bite Injury Claim Principles in Illinois
    In 2016, there were more than 900 dog bite claims filed in Illinois. The same year, dog bite victims recovered $602 million in compensation for their injuries. Despite these staggering statistics, innocent victims continue to be injured by dog bites in Illinois. Some important principles that dog bite injury victims should understand about Illinois dog bite laws include the following:
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Premises Liability Law - US

Premises Liability Law - Europe

  • European Centre of Tort and Insurance Law

    In 1993 Jaap Spier, at that time Professor at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands, called together a working group to discuss the fundamental questions concerning tort law on a comparative basis. The limits of liability were first examined. The results of these deliberations were published in two volumes. Furthermore, the drafting of the European Principles of Tort Law has now been completed. These have been published by the European Group on Tort Law, accompanied by a commentary and several translations.

  • European Group on Tort Law - Principles of European Tort Law

    The European Group on Tort Law (formerly also called "Tilburg Group") is a group of scholars in the area of tort law established in 1992. The group meets regularly to discuss fundamental issues of tort law liability as well as recent developments and the future directions of the law of tort. The Group has drafted a collection of Principles of European Tort Law similar to the Principles of European Contract Law drafted by the European Contract Law Commission ("Lando Commission").

  • Occupiers Liability Act 1984 - England

    An Act to amend the law of England and Wales as to the liability of persons as occupiers of premises for injury suffered by persons other than their visitors; and to amend the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, as it applies to England and Wales, in relation to persons obtaining access to premises for recreational or educational purposes.

Organizations Regarding Premises Liability

Publications Regarding Premises Liability

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