Everybody has heard the phrase “slip and fall” when talking about lawsuits. But why do they exist? Does a company have to pay every single person who happens to slip on their property? These questions are all related to “premises liability” law. Premises liability law covers what happens when a person is hurt while on the property of another.

If you were hurt while on the property of another person, the court might decide that your injury is the fault of the property owner. However, before that happens, it has to be clear that 1. the owner owed you a “duty of care,” which means they had a responsibility to make the environment reasonably safe, and 2. the owner breached that duty of care.

To sum it up, there are certain basic standards of safety that should be enforced. For example, if ice starts to accumulate on the front staircase of a local business, that business has the responsibility to clear the ice away if it intends to be open for business. If it doesn’t clear the ice, but still invites customers to climb on that dangerous staircase, they may be considered responsible for any injuries that follow. This becomes especially true if it can be proved that the business knew about the problem, but still chose to ignore it. For instance, if multiple people file complaints about the icy staircase, then a person is seriously injured later that day, it’s likely that the court will not be too kind to the business which chose to ignore so many warnings.

Types of Premises Liability Cases

Some of the most common forms of premises liability cases are:

Slip and Fall – For example, a spilled liquid isn’t cleaned up and causes a person to slip and falls.

Inadequate Maintenance – This kind of case might occur when a land owner fails to maintain the property and causes a risk to the public. For example, a home owner may leave a dead tree standing over a sidewalk, creating a dangerous situation. If someone were to be hurt by a falling limb, the homeowner may face liability.

Defective Conditions – Sometimes a property owner is aware of a problem, but doesn’t do anything to warn visitors or fix the problem. For example, a broken step on a staircase.

Inadequate Security – A property owner must provide a reasonable amount of security. For example, a store with a parking lot ought to have adequate lighting to keep patrons safe from criminals. By making it easy for criminals, a property owner might face liability for losses.

Common Premises Liability Questions

Are slip and fall lawsuits just scams?

Many people hear horror stories about people who simply pretend to slip or experience injury in order to get the chance to sue a business in the hopes of “striking it rich.” Despite the fact that this is a common TV show trope, a slip-and-fall injury is a painful reality that nobody would want to willingly endure. In a court case, injuries have to be proven real and documented, and will often face examination by multiple expert medical witnesses. In real life it is difficult to prove liability, that’s why most slip and fall cases are legitimate. Courts are reasonable and aren’t likely to take action against a property owner unless certain things can be proved, not the least of which is that the injuries are real. If you haven’t been injured, you can’t sue.

What if the property owner didn’t know about the problem?

Property owners have a duty to keep their property reasonably safe. Ignorance is no defense. Part of owning a property is the duty of discovering and repairing any problems on the property. That means keeping aware of the condition of their property and of any potential hazards there. Again, the courts are fair and reasonable on this matter. The courts will not have unrealistic expectations of what is safe. This is why it’s so important for your attorney to understand not just the law, but the principles of property ownership and liability.

What about trespassers who get injured?

We’ve all read the sensationalized stories about the burglar who tried to sue the family when he got hurt while breaking into their home. Luckily most of these cases are instantly dismissed as frivolous or abusive. Property owners owe very little duty to trespassers, especially those engaged in criminal behavior. You might be surprised to read that there is still a responsibility to warn trespassers of certain perils, but these are only common-sense things. For example, if a property owner is aware of a trespasser, he usually has a duty to warn the trespasser of dangerous conditions on the property, such as an electric fence. Also, if the trespasser is a child, the property owner is usually seen as having a higher duty to warn and protect the child, since children aren’t usually able to detect dangers as easily as adults.

What about renters?

A renter, who manages the day-to-day condition of a property, may also find himself responsible for injuries sustained by a visitor. Renters can’t assume that liability will be handled by the property owner alone.

What about injuries on the job?

If there’s an unsafe condition at your workplace which causes an employee an injury, that will almost certainly fall under workers’ compensation laws rather than premises liability laws. Workers’ compensation laws also expect a certain level of safety from employers and property owners, however these standards are varied based on the type of work, the location, and other factors.

What about visiting a business for a non-business reason?

If you visit a business for a reason other than to transact business, you are known as a licensee. In general, laws agree that your rights are essentially the same guarantees as people who are invited to the business as customers.

What to do if you’ve been hurt?

Be aware that there is a limit to how long you can wait to begin legal proceedings for your injuries. Additionally, the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to document any injuries or unsafe conditions which existed. If you or somebody you know has been hurt, it’s always a good idea to speak to a lawyer before settling with an insurance company. If you have any questions, please contact us.  We’re here to help.