Property owners owe a duty of care to whoever visits their property. Generally, the duty of care is to simply keep their premises and visitors safe. If a property owner’s building, property, or structure are dangerous, and someone visiting their property becomes injured, the property owner may be legally liable. Any dangerous property or building that a property owner has control over may be labeled as a dangerous structure. Additionally, dangerous property may also include things such as hazardous waste spills.
Dangerous structures often become dangerous due to daily wear and tear, or a lack of maintenance. Property owners have a duty to keep their property safe and maintained, no matter if the property is residential or commercial. Some examples of residential structures that could be considered to be dangerous include:
- Balconies, decks, and porches;
- Staircases and elevators; or
- Handrails and other support beams.
Examples of commercial structure that could be considered to be dangerous include:
- Overhead lighting;
- Overhead shelves;
- Product displays; or
- Faulty doors, such as automatic doors.
Businesses also owe an additional duty of care to its employees. That additional duty of care is to provide a safe and nonhazardous work environment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) is responsible for ensuring safety at work for all employees. As such, OSHA has the ability to conduct an inspection of any workplace. Additionally, OSHA has the power to enforce its standards, which means they can fine businesses that do not meet their standards.
What Is the Standard of Care for Dangerous Structures?
State laws vary on premise liability laws. However, property owners are generally responsible for keeping their property safe. Further, the standard of care owed to a visitor depends on the type of visitor. The highest duty of care is owed to an invitee, or customers or patrons who have been invited onto the property by the owner. Second is licensees, who are social guests of the property owner who have entered the property, or remain on the property, for purposes other than business (a friend of the owner would be an example).
Lastly is trespassers. Although the definition of a trespasser varies by state, this term generally refers to people who have entered or remained on the premises without the consent of the property owner.
In order to prove that a property owner was negligent, the plaintiff will generally need to prove the following elements of proof:
- There was an existing dangerous condition on the owner’s property;
- The property owner knew of the dangerous condition;
- The property owner failed to remedy the situation and remove or repair the dangerous condition; and
- That the victim sustained an injury due to the property owner’s breach of their duty of care to the invitee, licensee, or trespasser.
In order to avoid liability, property owners will need to take reasonable care in keeping their property safe by warning visitors of dangerous conditions. Additionally, they must remedy these conditions as quickly as possible. A duty of care is generally owed to another person in any situation in which they may be injured due to another’s actions, or inaction. Breaching this duty occurs when a person, such as the property owner, does not act as reasonably or prudent as another person would under the same circumstances.
As such, it must be proven that the property owner’s negligence was the “actual and proximate” cause of the injuries being claimed (this requirement is also referred to as causation). Otherwise, the property owner may be free of liability. Once the other elements have successfully been proven, the plaintiff must then prove that there was some quantifiable loss or damage as a result of the property owner’s negligence.
Are There Any Limitations on Recovery for Slip and Fall, or Premises Liability Injuries?
There are limitations on recovering damages for certain personal injuries, such as slip and fall or other premises liability injuries. One important limitation on premises liability injuries is the civil statute of limitations. Statute of limitations refers to the amount of time that a person injured has to bring a lawsuit against the defendant. The statute of limitations on reporting these injuries varies from state to state. As such, the sooner the victim can file a claim, the more likely they will be able to recover damages at all.
When determining a damages award, the court will typically consider the respective fault of each party involved in the incident. If a judge determines that that the injured party is somehow at fault for their injuries, they may reduce the amount of damages awarded. Alternatively, the judge may deny a damages award altogether. This is typically due to the plaintiff’s (victim’s) contributory negligence. If a judge determines that the victim is entitled to damages, these could include:
- Pain and suffering, if the victim can prove long term effects;
- Future and present medical bills, such as hospital stays and doctor visits; or
- Lost income due to missing work because of the injuries sustained by the victim.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Premises Liability Claim?
If you have been injured because of the negligence of a property owner, or because of a dangerous structure, you should contact a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you build your case, advocate for a damages award, and represent you in court as needed.
Additionally, if you are a property owner facing a premises liability claim, a personal injury attorney can help determine what, if any, legal defenses may be available to you. Additionally, they can help defend you from the lawsuit, based on the specific facts of your case.