Slip & Fall

What Is a Premises Liability Claim?

Premises liability is a comprehensive and inclusive concept encompassing a range of legal complaints stemming from hazardous conditions on someone else’s property. A typical illustration involves a shop proprietor neglecting to remove a slippery substance from the floor, resulting in a customer slipping and falling. While slip-and-fall incidents are the most prevalent premises liability claims, this article aims to provide insight into various other types of such claims, how to establish their validity, and the potential obstacles one may face when pursuing such a legal action.

Elements of a Premises Liability Claim

The elements required for a premises liability claim are determined by the laws of each state. It’s essential to understand your state’s specific legal requirements before pursuing a claim. Alternatively, seeking assistance from an experienced premises liability attorney who can guide you through the process is advisable.

In general, to succeed in a premises liability case, you typically need to prove these three fundamental aspects:

• The existence of a dangerous situation on someone else’s property.
• Negligence on the part of the property owner (or someone responsible for the property).
• Suffering personal injury or property damage as a result of this negligence.

The initial two elements are often the most challenging to establish. Let’s take a closer look at them.

A Dangerous Condition

A premises liability lawsuit commences when there is a hazardous situation on another person’s property. These hazardous conditions can manifest in various ways. Here are a few illustrations:

• Weather-related accumulations such as sleet, snow, or ice on driveways, sidewalks, and parking lots.
• Foreign substances on the floors of stores.
• Animals displaying dangerous traits.
• Hazardous chemicals or other substances.
• Criminal or violent incidents.
• Buildings that have been inadequately designed or constructed.

Property Owner Negligence

The mere presence of a hazardous situation doesn’t automatically translate into a premises liability claim. The hazardous condition must be the result of negligence on the part of the property owner (or someone responsible for the property, such as a tenant), which can include:

• Creating the hazardous condition.
• Failing to conduct property inspections to identify it.
• Not addressing or rectifying the condition.
• Neglecting to alert visitors about it.

Proving a Property Owner Was Negligent

Negligence is essentially the failure to behave in a manner consistent with what a reasonably cautious individual would do in similar circumstances. In the context of a premises liability case, we initiate the assessment of negligence by inquiring whether the property owner had a legal obligation to ensure their property’s safety. If such a duty existed and the property owner did not behave as a reasonably careful person would (legally referred to as “breaching” the duty of care), then the property owner is considered negligent.

Determining when a property owner is obligated to make their property safe hinges, in part, on the specific laws of the state where the property is situated. Generally, states adhere to one of two approaches:

• The status-based approach.
•  The reasonable care approach.

Status-Based Approach

Certain states adhere to a traditional status-based approach when determining the duty of property owners. Under this approach, whether a property owner owes a duty is influenced, in part, by the legal status of the individual who suffered harm:

• Trespassers are owed the least duty of care.
• Licensees are owed an intermediate level of care.
• Invitees are owed the highest degree of care.

Trespassers

Generally, property owners are typically not obligated to ensure the safety of their premises for the majority of trespassers. However, there may be specific obligations in place to safeguard trespassing children, and property owners are prohibited from introducing exceptionally perilous conditions on their property that could result in harm to a trespasser.

Licensees

A licensee is an individual who has obtained the property owner’s consent to be present on the property, often akin to a social guest. In broad terms, property owners are typically obligated to inform licensees about any hazardous conditions on the property if the owner is aware of such conditions and the licensee is unlikely to come across them independently.

Invitees

An invitee, occasionally referred to as a business invitee, is an individual whom the property owner extends an invitation to enter their premises, typically for business-related reasons. This category encompasses instances such as store patrons or individuals visiting a professional office building. It is incumbent upon the property owner to alert invitees about any hazardous conditions that the owner is aware of or should be aware of, especially if it’s improbable for the invitee to detect such hazards independently.

Reasonable Care Approach

In the majority of states following the reasonable care approach, property owners typically have an obligation to exercise reasonable care towards almost all individuals who enter their property. This responsibility typically entails the requirement for property owners to provide warnings about hazardous conditions on the premises under the following circumstances:

• When the property owner is aware of these conditions.
• When the property owner would have been aware of these conditions if they had taken reasonable care to inspect the property.
•. When these conditions are unlikely to be noticed by someone visiting the property.

It’s important to note that there is typically an exception to this duty of care concerning trespassers. In most states that adhere to the reasonable care approach, property owners are generally not obliged to protect trespassers from harm unless trespassing is a common occurrence or the trespassers are children. Additionally, as is the case in status-based states, property owners are prohibited from creating exceptionally hazardous conditions on the property that could pose a danger to trespassers.

Common Types of Premises Liability Cases

Falls

Trips and falls constitute the most prevalent type of premises liability cases. Hazardous situations that frequently result in slip or trip accidents encompass:

• Staircases that do not adhere to proper design or building codes.
• Accretions of sleet, ice, or snow.
• Presence of foreign substances like liquids or food on the floor.
• Concealed cords such as extension or computer cables.
• Unsecured rugs or carpets.
• Floors, sidewalks, or pavement that are loose, cracked, or broken.

Inadequate Building Security

Property owners could be obligated to ensure security, especially in locations where tenants, customers, or other individuals have suffered harm due to criminal or violent incidents. For instance, numerous apartment complexes employ locked entrances for security. Shopping centers and nightclubs may opt to enlist the services of security personnel or off-duty police officers to safeguard both indoor and outdoor spaces, including parking areas.

Dangerous Animals

An animal can represent a potential hazard. Even in the case of a pet known for its typically friendly nature, there can be instances of unpredictable behavior. The legal liability concerning animal attacks is subject to state-specific regulations, but pet owners frequently have an obligation to either restrain their animals or notify visitors about the possibility of aggression or previous instances of aggressive behavior.

Premises liability claims can present certain challenges that require your attention. Here are a couple of key hurdles:

• Demonstrating the property owner’s negligence.
•. Establishing your own absence of negligence.

Challenges in Premises Liability Claims

Premises liability claims can present certain challenges that warrant your attention. These include:

1. Establishing the property owner’s negligence.
2. Demonstrating your own absence of negligence.

Proving the Property Owner Was Negligent

Remember that a hazardous situation, in the absence of property owner negligence, likely results in no premises liability claim. You must provide evidence that the property owner violated their duty to maintain a safe property.

Were You Likely to Discover the Dangerous Condition?

In both states that follow the reasonable care approach and those adhering to the status-based approach, property owners could be obliged to provide warnings regarding hazardous conditions that visitors are unlikely to detect on their own. Anticipate property owners asserting that, as a visitor, you should have been aware of the hazardous condition and taken precautions to avoid it.

Did the Property Owner Have Notice of the Dangerous Condition?

Before a property owner can be deemed negligent due to a hazardous condition, there are typically a couple of prerequisites in most states:

• Initially, the property owner must have been aware of the condition, or
the condition must have persisted for a sufficient duration that the property owner should have detected it, and
• Secondly, the property owner must have had a reasonable chance to rectify or address the condition or provide a warning to visitors about it.

Proving That You Weren't Negligent

In numerous premises liability cases, demonstrating the property owner’s negligence is just one part of the equation. You also need to establish that you did not act negligently. Depending on your state’s laws, this is referred to as either comparative negligence or contributory negligence, and it can significantly impact your claim’s outcome.

To illustrate, let’s consider a slip-and-fall scenario. You contend that a hazardous condition, like a puddle of liquid in a store aisle, caused your fall. Among various defenses, the store owner may assert that you were also negligent. Here’s why this defense can be quite effective:

If you didn’t notice the puddle before your fall, the store owner may argue that you bear responsibility because you failed to exercise caution while walking.
On the other hand, if you did see the puddle before stepping into it and falling, the store owner might contend that you didn’t take appropriate measures to avoid the perilous situation.

In either situation, you could be found partially at fault for your fall.

Next Steps

If you believe you have a premises liability case, it’s essential to be well-prepared. Contrary to certain misconceptions, a slip-and-fall lawsuit doesn’t guarantee a favorable outcome. It’s crucial to have competent legal representation by your side – someone who can foresee and address issues before they jeopardize your premises liability claim.

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