If you have ever visited a friend or neighbor’s home or set foot inside a commercial space, it is unlikely that you first considered whether the place was safe for you to enter. That is because we instinctively assume that if a person is going to invite us onto his or her property (whether to visit for dinner or to purchase a product), then that person must have inspected his or her property beforehand and determined that it was safe for visitors to come onto the property. This assumption undergirds all of premises liability law: The belief that if one person invites another onto his or her property for personal or business reasons, the property owner owes the visitor the duty to ensure the property can safely accommodate visitors. Because not all property owners fulfill this obligation, premises liability law exists.
Basic Elements of a Premises Liability Claim
A premises liability lawsuit is similar to other types of personal injury lawsuits in that the main contention of the suit is that the property owner in question acted in a careless or reckless manner and thereby caused injury to the victim.
More specifically, an injury victim bringing a premises liability lawsuit against a property owner must generally show:
- Duty and authority: The victim must establish that the property owner whom he or she is suing is in fact the owner of the property on which the victim was injured or had a legal responsibility to maintain the property. For example, if a person is leasing a home or commercial space from a property owner, that person will likely have a duty to maintain and keep up the property despite the fact that he or she does not own the property.
- Presence of a dangerous condition that causes injury: The victim must next show that a dangerous condition such as faulty stairs, a defective railing, or a slippery floor existed in or on the property and this condition caused or contributed to the victim’s injuries. A dangerous condition may be obvious (such as stairs with an obvious hole in some of the steps) or it may not be obvious (such as an electric outlet that is incorrectly wired and capable of delivering a shock).
- Negligence in warning or repairing: The property owner or person with a duty to maintain the property is responsible for taking reasonable measures to (1) discover or uncover dangerous conditions that might exist on the property; and (2) repair those dangerous conditions or warn visitors of the existence of those conditions.
The key term in premises liability cases is reasonableness. The property owner is not required to undertake every expense to repair a dangerous condition, nor is a property owner liable for every dangerous condition that might exist on his or her property. Instead, the property owner is only required to make reasonable inspection of his or her property on a regular basis to look for dangerous conditions. Once such a dangerous condition is discovered, the property owner need only expend reasonable resources to repair the condition. If the condition cannot be repaired for a reasonable amount, the property owner must take reasonable steps to warn visitors of the dangerous condition. What is reasonable will vary with the circumstances of each case and will be determined by a court or jury.
For example, suppose that a homeowner wants to invite his or her neighbors over for a dinner party. The homeowner cleans the house and in doing so discovers that the stairs leading to the second floor are rickety and seem ready to collapse. The homeowner learns that having a professional come to inspect and repair the steps will cost nearly $10,000. The homeowner would not necessarily be required to have the stairs repaired for the dinner party, but the homeowner would need to rope the stairs off or post conspicuous warning signs alerting his or her guests that the stairs are dangerous and should not be used.
The Interaction Between Homeowner Insurance Claims and Premises Liability
When a person is injured on the property of another, in most cases the homeowner’s property insurance carrier (or the insurance company that insures the commercial property) will pay up to the policy limits for injuries suffered by guests. If the property owner does not have such a policy, he or she will likely be personally responsible for the expenses and losses sustained by injured visitors.
Stern Law, PLLC is available to assist individuals injured while visiting another’s property recover financial compensation for their injuries. We are a professional but dedicated personal injury law firm and pride ourselves on achieving results for our clients, whether from the property insurer or from the property owner. Contact Stern Law, PLLC as soon as you can if you have been injured. Call our office today at (844) 808-7529.