Premises liability law is a classification of law that makes the person who is in possession of land or its premises responsible for certain injuries suffered by persons who show up on the premises.
There are many such cases that are classified as "slip and fall", and, even though they are fairly straightforward, legislation in some states now makes it very hard to make a case against the owner of the premisies. For this reason it is recommended to consult with an attorney before proceeding with such cases.
Possession of Premises
Under the scope of a premisies liability case, a person in in posseion of land or premises when:
- the person occupys the land with the intent to control it;
- no other person has subsequently occupied the premises with the intent of controlling it;
- the person is entitled to immediate occupation of the land
In most jurisdictions, the status of the plantiff, the "injured party", must be determined in so far as being an invitee, a trespasser, or a licensee. Depending on the status classification, the obligation to the defendent can vary.
An invitee is person who is invited to enter or remain on the premises for a commercial benefit to the one who possesses premises, or for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor. This invitation may be either expressed or implied. (For example: A customer in a grocery store is an invitee, as the grocery store actively invites the public to come onto the premises and to purchase products while on the premises.) A premises owner, or the grocer in our example, has the highest duty of care to an invitee while on their preimses.
In general circumstances, the posessor of the propterty has a duty to use ordinary care to warn and protect an invitee from the risk of harm from a condition on the possessor’s premises if:
- the risk of harm is not reasonable, and
- the possessor knows or in the exercise of routine care should know of the condition, and should therefore realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to an invitee.
The possessor may have a duty to periodically inspect the premises for the introduction of hazards to invitees. For example, our grocery store owner may be reasonably be obliged to periodically check the floors of the premises for the presence of spilled or broken merchandise, and to make sure that the products on the shelves are not likely to fall.
A licensee is a person who is invited to enter or remain on the premises not for a business or commercial purpose but for any other one with the express or implied permission of the one who is in control of the premises. A social guest is considered to be a licensee, not an invitee.
Generallly, a possessor of premises is liable for physical harm caused to a licensee by a condition on the premises if, but only if, the plaintiff establishes the following three elements:
- The possessor knew or should have known of the condition, and should have realized that it involved an unreasonable risk of harm to the licensee, and also should have expected that the licensee would not discover or realize the danger;
- The possessor failed to exercise reasonable care in making the condition safe, or to effectively warn the licensee of the condition and the risk involved; and
- The licensee did not know or had not reason to know of the condition and the risk involved.
For example, if a homeowner knows that one of the steps leading into a basement is broken (but would not appear to be broken to a reasonably observant person), the homeowner may be liable to a guest who did not notice the broken step, and is then injured when the step gives way.
A trespasser is a someone who goes upon the premises of another without an express or implied invitation from the owner, for his or her own purposes, and not in the performance of any function for the owner. It is generally not a requirement for a defendant to establish that the trespasser had unlawful intent when making such an entry.
When owners of premises are not aware of the presence of trespassers, they usually have no duty to warn a trespasser of any dangers or to make their premises safe for the benefit of that trespasser. If the premises owner is aware of the presence of trespassers, the premises owner may be obligated to exercise normal care in relation to the safety of a trespasser.
Public Roads and Sidewalks
Owners of premises are typically charged with clearing public sidewalks in front of their premises, and to maintain their premises so as not to pose a danger to members of the public who are passing by on a public street or sidewalk. This becomes especially true with regard to snow and ice removal.
Non-Delegability of Duties
The obligation of a premises owner are typically nondelegable – meaning they can not be passed off to another party. If the defendant remains in possession, the defendant cannot escape responsibility merely because he contracted with a company to provide maintenance. For example, a business remains liable for the condition of its parking lot, even if the owner has hired a company to maintain the parking lot and to remove snow and ice. A landlord, on the other hand, remains liable for the condition of the housing it owns, even if it has contracted with a management company to provide all services and maintenance for the housing.
So, as you can see, premises liability makes certain distinctions between whom is liable when something happens on someone’s property. It is important to know where you stand as a property owner or proprietor of an establishment before anything harmful occurs.
Slip and fall accidents are the most common type of premises liability cases that rest on the question of the property owner’s responsibility to maintain their property so it does not present a danger to others.
Premises liability is a little trickier then product liability. Premises liability deals with someone’s dwelling or land that they have sole ownership for. According to the laws pertaining to premise liability, if anyone is injured or something occurs on your land, the person that owns the land is held liable for whatever ailments they may have caused another individual.