Premises liability applies when a party is injured on someone’s property, and the property owner was negligent, and as a result and accident occurred. Negligence means that the property owner failed to use reasonable care in connection with the property.
Just by being injured on someone’s property does not automatically result in premises liability. There must be proof that the property owner was negligent. That means that there is more than just an unsafe environment on the property, but that the property owner knew, or should reasonably have known, that the premises were in an unsafe condition, but the property owner still failed to take proper steps to make the property safe.
Many different types of personal injury cases can be classified as premises liability cases, and fall under the umbrella of premises liability because they involve an unsafe condition on someone’s property. Here are some typical examples:
- slip and fall cases
- snow and ice accidents
- inadequate maintenance of the premises
- defective conditions on the premises
- inadequate building security leading to injury or assault
- elevator and escalator accidents
- dog bites
- swimming pool accidents
- amusement park accidents
- water leaks or flooding
- toxic fumes or chemicals
While many states require the property owner to exercise reasonable care in ownership and maintenance of the property with respect to all persons who might enter onto the property, other states still apply an old rule that can limit the landowner’s duties depending on the status of the visitor. Visitors to the property are divided into three categories:
An invitee is someone who has the landowner’s express or implied permission to enter the property. Invitees are usually people like friends, relatives, and neighbors. The landowner traditionally owed an invitee a duty of reasonable care to keep the property reasonably safe for the invitee.
A licensee is someone who has the landowner’s express or implied permission to enter the property, but is coming onto the property for his or her own purposes. Licensees are usually people like salesmen. The landowner traditionally owed a licensee a lesser duty only to warn the licensee of dangerous conditions that create an unreasonable risk of harm if the landowner knows about the condition and the licensee is not likely to be able to discover it.
A trespasser is someone who is not authorized to be on the property. Traditionally, landowners owed no duty to trespassers unless the trespasser was a child. In that case, the landowner owed the duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to children caused by artificial conditions on the land (i.e., swimming pools).
Examples of Premises Liability Cases
Slip and Fall
These are the most straightforward premises liability cases. They occur when you slip (or trip) and fall on someone else’s property. Some common conditions that can lead to a slip or trip and fall are:
- defective staircases
- accumulation of ice or snow
- wet floors
- oily floors
- hidden extension cords
- unsecured rugs or carpets
- loose or broken floors, sidewalks, steps, or stairs
Special situations apply to Building Security and Swimming Pools
Inadequate Building Security
These cases usually arise in apartment buildings or offices. Owners of those buildings have a duty to act reasonably in securing access to the buildings. Large apartment buildings and offices usually have doormen or security guards on the first floor and small apartment buildings generally require the tenants to keep the front and back doors locked. If someone breaks in (or simply walks in through an unlocked door) and assaults or kills someone inside the building, that person may have a premises liability case against the building owner if it can be shown that the building owner did not take reasonable steps to secure the building.
Accidents usually involve children and an unsupervised and unsecured pool. For this reason, most states and municipalities have laws and ordinances requiring that swimming pools have a fence around them, often with a locking gate. If someone leaves their pool open and unguarded, that person may be on the legal hook in a premises liability case.