Homeowners’ Premises Liability

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Is Premises Liability?

The term “premises liability” refers to a set of laws that may prescribe legal liability for property owners for accidents and resulting injuries sustained by other people on their property. Premises liability also extends to liability for any accidents and injuries that occur inside a home or at a place of business.

Premises liability law requires that property owners make every reasonable effort to ensure the safety of any person who enters their property. It is important to note that in most cases, premises liability does not extend to trespassers.

Legally, premises liability cases are a type of personal injury case in which a person’s injury has been caused by an unsafe or defective condition on real property that belongs to another person or entity. A common type of premises liability case is a slip and fall accident that happens in a place of business.

Premises liability claims are commonly based on the legal concept of negligence, as are most personal injury claims. The legal term “negligence” refers to a person failing in their duty to exercise reasonable care with respect to the safety of others, with that failure resulting in injury or property damage to another person.

In order to succeed in a premises liability lawsuit, the injured person, the “plaintiff” in legal terminology, must prove the following legal elements:

  • The owner or occupant of the premises owed the plaintiff a duty of care. The relationship between the owner or occupation and the injured person determines what the standard of care is. For example, a business that invites customers onto its property must meet a higher standard of care than a private person may have towards a casual guest in their home;
  • The owner breached the duty of care by allowing a dangerous, unsafe, or defective condition to exist on the property owner’s premises;
  • The person was injured as a direct result of the condition on the property and the owner’s failure to correct it;
  • The person suffered measurable harm as a result of their injury.

Not all property owners are liable for the harm that other people sustain on their property. A duty of care is typically owed only to invitees or licensees. Further, a breach of this duty only occurs when a property owner does not act as reasonably or prudently as another person would under the same or similar circumstances.

Once again, property owner liability is dependent on the status of the victim and the circumstances in which they were injured.

Under premises liability law, a person who enters the property of another person may have a status as follows:

  • Invitees: People who have been invited onto a property by the owner are invitees. The property owner has a duty to warn them of unreasonable risks of harm, of which the property owner is aware. The property owner also has a duty to make sure their premises are safe and free of dangerous conditions;
  • Licensees: Licensees are commonly social guests who have entered or remained on a property for a purpose other than business. Licensees have special permission to do something on the property owner’s premises. As far as liability, homeowners are responsible for warning licensees of any dangerous conditions of which they are aware;
  • Trespassers: In sharp contrast to invitees, trespassers are people who enter or remain on a homeowner’s property without the permission of the homeowner. Although state laws regarding trespassing vary, generally, a property owner does not have a duty to warn trespassers of dangerous conditions.

However, property owners still owe some level of duty even to trespassers. For example, they may not actively set traps for them or intentionally create dangerous conditions that might victimize trespassers. Property owners may also sometimes need to provide a warning about certain dangerous conditions, especially if they know about trespassers on their land.

A critical exception to a property owner’s low level of duty to trespassers is the doctrine of attractive nuisance.

If owners are aware that there is an attractive nuisance on the property that could cause injury or death, they have a duty to lessen the hazard it presents. For example, if an owner has a swimming pool, they should put up a fence to prevent trespassing children from accessing the pool. If they do not take such measures, they may be liable for the consequences if an uninvited child suffers injury in the pool.

Children are in a special category because they may not be aware they are trespassing and are tempted to do it by the presence of features such as a trampoline, swimming pool or tree house on a property that invite children to use them and run the risk of harm.

If a homeowner is found to be negligent, i.e., found to have breached their duty of care to prevent an accident or injury from occurring on their property, in a lawsuit alleging premises liability, the injured party may be awarded damages. Examples of common personal injury damages include:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Current and future medical bills;
  • Lost income or loss of the injured party’s earning capacity; and/or
  • Punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages meant to punish the party that injured the plaintiff to prevent future incidents from occurring.

Do Homeowners Owe a Duty of Care to Employees or Contractors?

Once again, the duty that a homeowner owes to another person depends on the status of that person on their property. Importantly, both employees and independent contractors are considered invitees because both have been invited onto the property for business purposes. For example, a homeowner may hire an independent contractor to paint the outside of their house or replace their windows.

However, homeowners, in some cases, may become employers without intending to do that. They would then have the liability of an employer. When a court is determining whether or not a property owner is liable for injuries to a worker on their property, the court will typically look at the control that the worker had over the work itself.

Thus, the main factor to be considered when determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor is that employers have a certain level of direction and control over the work of employees. Contractors, on the other hand, have total control over the methods and means of completing their work.

For instance, if a homeowner hires an individual to replace their roof and pays them based on the hours worked, that may be evidence that the worker has become, in essence, an employee of the homeowner.

Contractors will typically ask for a fixed fee for the job, regardless of the time it takes to actually complete the job. Further, a homeowner will not be able to dictate the methods the contractor uses to complete the job. This is not to say that a homeowner cannot have ongoing interactions with an independent contractor while the contractor completes a job.

Other ways that a homeowner may be found to be a pseudo-employer include:

  • If the homeowner assists with the job. A homeowner who assists with the job may be considered to be giving direction to the worker;
  • Providing the tools and other equipment needed to perform the job to the workers. If a worker is injured by a tool provided by a homeowner, they may be able to claim that the tool was defective, as well as that the homeowner exercised control over the project; and/or
  • The homeowner otherwise controls aspects of the project. For instance, the homeowner becomes involved with the day-to-day work of the project and directs the workers.

Once again, although a homeowner may still be held liable under the theory of premises liability for workers classified as either employees or contractors if a homeowner acts as an employer, the nature of their liability might change.

If their employee is injured within the course and scope of their employment on the employer’s premises, the employer would be liable under the workers’ compensation system in the state in which they live.

A person may not want to have to deal with their state’s workers’ compensation system, which usually involves having workers’ compensation insurance. In that case, they probably want to avoid doing anything that might give them the status of an employer with respect to a person who works on their property.

If a homeowner is found to be negligent and therefore liable under a theory of premises liability, a court may award compensatory damages to the victim. Examples of common personal injury damages include:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Current and future medical bills;
  • Lost income or loss of the injured party’s earning capacity;
  • Punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages meant to punish the party that injured the victim to prevent future incidents from occurring. They are only rarely awarded in actual personal injury cases.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with My Premises Liability Issue?

As can be seen, homeowners may owe a duty of care to many different people. Therefore, if a person has been injured on your property, you want to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer for guidance.

LegalMatch.com can connect you to an experienced personal injury attorney who will be able to help you determine whether or not you are liable for that individual’s injuries, as well as assert any applicable legal defenses that are available to your specific case. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed.

Alternatively, if you were injured on another individual’s property, a personal injury attorney can file a suit against the homeowner on your behalf.

Save Time and Money - Speak With a Lawyer Right Away

  • Buy one 30-minute consultation call or subscribe for unlimited calls
  • Subscription includes access to unlimited consultation calls at a reduced price
  • Receive quick expert feedback or review your DIY legal documents
  • Have peace of mind without a long wait or industry standard retainer
  • Get the right guidance - Schedule a call with a lawyer today!

16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer