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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- Strict Liability, Negligence, Negligence Per Se, Scienter and Intentional Tort Claims Based on Dog BitesDog bites are common, and the bigger the location where the victim has been bitten, the greater the chances are that an animal will bite a person at some point. However, when these cases proceed to the courtroom, there are numerous types of defenses and strategies to use for both plaintiff and defendant, and knowing the differences and similarities is important.
- Biomechanics Expert Witness in Slip and Fall CasesA biomechanics expert may be needed when there is a slip and fall case to determine various factors related to the body, anatomy and how the human body has been harmed through these incidents. If the accident occurred at work, there are additional elements that may be involved such as negligence or intentional harm.
- Social Media and Your Personal Injury CaseSocial media is accessed by millions of people around the world. It is also used by defense lawyers, private investigators, and the defendants. For you, this means that what you post could be used against you in court.
- Common Questions that Arise after a Slip and Fall AccidentOne of the most common types of cases personal injury lawyers handle are Slip and Falls. To address confusion that people may have while determining if they have a case or not, here are some of the questions and that we often receive in our South Carolina practice.
- When Landlords Can Be Held Liable for Violent AttacksWhen certain situations arise, it is possible to hold a landlord liable for damages, medical compensation and similar monetary payouts. This means that the landlord should fully understand these circumstances and how best to avoid them in current and future events.
- Slip And Fall AccidentsPremises liability is the legal concept that allows an individual to file a claim against a property owner for injuries they sustain as a result of the property owner’s negligence. Establishing liability in a slip and fall accident case can be challenging, as the burden of proof falls upon the injured party.
- Liability for Dog Bites in CaliforniaWith over 4.5 million dog bites a year and 800,000 medical visits annually in the United States, the potential for liability is particularly worrisome to dog owners, especially with certain breeds. It is also problematic for those of us that share the walking paths, parks or city sidewalks with these pets. Learn more about what to do if you’ve been bitten by a dog in California.
- Trampoline Park Accidents and the Park's LiabilityAccording to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, children under the age of six should not be permitted to use trampolines. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against the use of trampolines by children altogether.
- Slip and Fall Accidents in StoresA slip and fall accident can turn an enjoyable day of shopping into a nightmare. Every year, more than one million Americans visit the emergency room with injuries they sustained in a slip and fall accident. Many of these types of accidents happen in retail stores. Store flooring is often made of laminate materials or wood, which can become very slippery when wet.
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Premises Liability Law - US
- Amusement Park Accidents and Liability
Negligence may be found if the ride was not in a safe condition, improperly maintained or inspected.
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Section 2(b) of the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act (Public Law 91-596) sets forth the purpose and policy of Congress in enacting this legislation.
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- Landowner Liability Law Title 14, 159-A - Limited Liability for Recreational or Harvesting Activities
Limited duty: An owner, lessee, manager, holder of an easement or occupant of premises does not have a duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational or harvesting activities or to give warning of any hazardous condition, use, structure or activity on these premises to persons entering for those purposes.
- Premises Liability - Definition
The owner is not the insurer of the safety of persons on the premises. The duty of care owed by the owner may vary depending on whether the person injured on the premises was an invitee, guest or trespasser. However, some jurisdictions have adopted the rule that an owner or occupier of land is held to a duty of reasonable care under all the circumstances.
- Recreational Use Statutes - Landowner's Liabilities
This section consists of law cases that deal with various aspects of the liability of a land owner or occupier for injuries occurring to others on his or her property.
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In some cases tort law imposes liability on defendants who are neither negligent nor guilty of intentional wrongdoing.
- US Code - Chapter 171 - Tort Claims Procedure
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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.