An owner of a residential property has an obligation to ensure that their land and their home are reasonably safe for any individual who is invited to or visits the premises. Residential property includes all types of real estate, for example:
- Townhomes; and
If an individual is an owner of residential property and another individual is injured in their home or on their land, the owner may be liable for the harm or losses which are suffered by the injured party. This is known as premises liability.
Premises liability laws govern the liability of residential homeowners for personal injury. These types of claims are typically based on negligence and may vary depending on the jurisdiction and facts of each individual case.
What are the Laws Regarding Premises Liability?
Premises liability is governed by the laws of the state in which an injury occurs. In certain states, the courts may focus on the legal status of the individual.
In other states, the courts may focus on the condition of the property in addition to the activities of the owners as well as the visitor. Generally, the court will consider several factors when determining whether or not to hold the landowner liable for an injury, including:
- The condition of the property, for example, was it properly maintained or in need of repair;
- The legal status of the individual visiting the property. In other words, whether the individual was an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser;
- Whether both the property owner and the visitor are at fault for the injury;
- The circumstances under which the visitor entered the property, for example, whether the individual was a social guest or whether they were attempting a rescue like a firefighter or police officer;
- How the property is being used;
- Whether the accident or injury that occurred was foreseeable or not;
- Whether the visitor was an adult or a child;
- Whether the owner’s efforts to fix a dangerous condition or to warn visitors of a dangerous condition was reasonable; and
- Whether the owner was aware of or should have been aware of a particular condition on the premises.
Can a Landowner be Liable for the Defective Condition of a Sidewalk?
In general, a landowner or occupant of a property that abuts a public sidewalk does not owe the public a duty to keep that sidewalk in safe condition. The city or municipality has a duty to keep the sidewalk free from defective conditions.
Statutes or ordinances do not change this rule unless there is an express provision that makes the owner liable for injuries that were caused by their noncompliance with the statute or ordinance. It is important to note, however, that the owner or occupant is required to exercise reasonable care not to endanger the safety of individuals who are using the sidewalk.
Owners or occupants may be liable for injuries that result from their negligence or wrongful act. Because of this, an abutting owner may be liable for injuries to a user of the sidewalk which results from a defective or dangerous condition which is created from or arises due to their own acts or conduct.
If an abutting landowner does any of the following to a sidewalk, they may be held liable for injuries that result from his negligence in the maintenance or work on the sidewalk. This may include:
- Resurfacing; or
Courts are split on whether the owner or occupant’s knowledge or notice of the defect is sufficient to find them liable. There are some courts that hold that notice or knowledge is a factor that supports liability while other courts hold that notice or knowledge cannot be questioned.
Can a Tenant be Liable for the Defective Condition of a Sidewalk?
If a tenant has rented a property and taken possession of it, they may be held liable for injuries if a defect was created after the lease. This is true especially in cases where the condition was due solely to the actions of the tenant or were created as the result of work performed for the tenant’s benefit.
If, however, the defective condition existed at the time that the landlord leased the property to a tenant, the landlord has, in general, been held liable for the injuries even in cases where the defective condition was created by a former tenant.
What is a Trip and Fall Injury?
One common injury that may occur on a sidewalk is a trip and fall injury. These injuries are associated with an individual tripping and subsequently falling onto the ground.
Other possible injuries include a slip and fall or a step and fall. Tripping may also occur when there is an unexpected pit or pothole in the ground.
For example, an individual may trip over an illegal curb that is made by a property owner in order to create a driveway. Trip and fall accidents may also occur when foreign objects are in the walkway or there is a change in the walking surface.
Slip and fall incidents typically occur indoors on:
- Staircases or ramps;
- Elevators; and
- Floors in places where liquids or grease may be present, such as grocery stores or restaurants.
A step and fall accident occurs when an individual steps on an object which would not normally be present. It may also occur if there is a deformation in a floor or an outdoor road or sidewalk.
Stump and fall accidents may occur when there is a crack in the walking surface or an object on the surface. In these situations, an individual stumbles over an object or a defect before falling.
Who is Responsible for Trip and Fall Injuries?
The parties that may be held responsible for a trip and fall injuries depends on where an accident occured. As noted above, municipalities are usually responsible for maintaining sidewalks and streets in a reasonably safe condition.
If, for example, rebar or metal stakes which are protruding dangerously out of the sidewalk but the rest of the sidewalk is in reasonable condition, a pedestrian will likely believe that there is nothing unusual to be aware of. When this occurs, the pedestrian may not scan for danger and may trip and fall.
A trip and fall claim is a specific type of personal injury lawsuit that is based on the legal theory of negligence. This legal theory provides that the individual or organization responsible for the injury was careless and failed to take the proper actions which would have prevented an injury.
Should I Contact an Attorney?
Whether you rent your home or you own your home, you may be held liable if another individual is injured on the sidewalk in front of your property. If this occurs, it may be helpful to consult with a real estate attorney.
If you are the property owner or tenant, your attorney can advise you regarding the applicable laws in your state and the likelihood of your being held liable. Your attorney will also be able to advise you if there are any defenses available in your case.
If you are the party who was injured, your attorney can advise you regarding the possibility of filing a lawsuit and recovering for your injuries. Your attorney may be able to help you obtain compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other costs related to your injury.