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 Museum Liability Lawyers

A museum is a place where people can view art. It is also possible for visitors to suffer injuries in museums.

What Duties Does a Museum Have?

It is a museum’s responsibility to ensure that the museum and its surroundings are reasonably safe. The museum must warn visitors of hidden dangers to protect visitors from injury. It is the museum’s responsibility to protect itself from hazardous conditions if it has reason to believe it can cause injuries. Otherwise, there is negligence. Common injuries include slip and fall accidents and injuries from crowding.

What Is Considered to Be a Dangerous Structure?

Property owners owe a duty of care to whoever visits their property. Generally, the duty of care is to keep the premises and visitors safe. If a property owner’s building, property, or structure is dangerous, and someone visiting the property becomes injured, then the owner may be legally liable. Any building or property that is dangerous and under the owner’s control may be classified as a dangerous structure. Hazardous waste spills are also considered dangerous property.

It is common for dangerous structures to become dangerous due to daily wear and tear or a lack of maintenance. It is the museum’s responsibility to maintain and keep its property safe.

Here are a few examples of structures that could be considered dangerous:

  • Balconies, decks, and porches;
  • Staircases and elevators; or
  • Handrails and other support beams.
  • Stairwells;
  • Overhead lighting;
  • Overhead shelves;
  • Product displays; or
  • Faulty doors, such as automatic doors.

Museums also owe an additional duty of care to their 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 can inspect any workplace. Additionally, OSHA has the power to enforce its standards, which means it can fine museums that do not meet their standards.

What Is the Standard of Care for Dangerous Structures?

Premise liability laws vary from state to state. In general, property owners are responsible for keeping their property safe. In addition, the standard of care owed to a visitor depends on the type of visitor. Those who have been invited onto the property by the owner are owed the highest duty of care. Licensees are social guests of the property owner who enter the property for purposes other than business (such as a friend of the owner).

Finally, there are trespassers. While the definition of a trespasser differs by state, it generally refers to people who enter or remain on the property without permission.

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.

To avoid liability, property owners must take reasonable care in keeping their property safe by warning visitors of dangerous conditions. Additionally, these conditions must be remedied as soon as possible. It is generally expected that one should take reasonable care of another in any situation in which their actions or inaction may injure another. It is a breach of duty when a person, such as a property owner, does not act as reasonably or prudently as another would.

To prove causation, the property owner’s negligence must be established as the “actual and proximate” cause of the injuries. In other cases, the property owner may not be liable. After proving the other elements, the plaintiff must then prove that the property owner’s negligence caused some quantifiable loss or damage.

What Might Show Negligence by the Museum?

Museums are negligent if they know or should have known about the thing that caused the injury or if the thing is inherently dangerous.

The following factors often indicate negligence:

  • There are not enough guards, attendants, supervisors, or personnel to supervise the museum.
  • No one inspects and maintains the museum.
  • Things are arranged dangerously. For example, a sculpture with sharp points is placed where people can collide with it.

Are There Any Defenses to Slip and Fall Claims?

An opposing party may be able to assert many defenses against a slip-and-fall claim. There are several possible defenses, including:

  • Comparative negligence or contributory negligence;
  • Assumption of risk;
  • Failure to prove the elements of a negligence case (i.e., affirmative defenses);
  • Statute of limitation violations (these rules will vary by state);
  • The owner took reasonable care to prevent an injury, such as posting warnings signs or cleaning up spills; and
  • A lack of fault defense. For example, a reasonable person would have recognized the danger and, as such, would have chosen a safer route, or the dangerous condition that caused the injury was open and obvious to a reasonable person.

What Type of Damages Can I Receive for a Slip and Fall Accident?

Several damages can be awarded when someone is injured in a slip and fall accident at a museum. Among them are:

  • Economic or Special Damages: This refers to monetary damage awards and can involve being compensated for medical bills, lost wages, or replacement of broken property;
  • Non-economic or General Damages: Non-economic or general damages cover costs for items such as the injury itself, pain and suffering, disability or disfigurement, and loss of “enjoyment of life.”
  • Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are exactly what their name sounds like — damages that punish the property owner for severe and offensive violations.

Slip and fall cases generally only award economic and non-economic damages. It is rare for punitive damages to be awarded.

Consult with a slip and fall lawyer for an estimated evaluation of your claims to determine what kind of damages you may be entitled to.

Can I Settle a Claim for a Slip and Fall Accident?

It is not uncommon for slip and fall accidents to be settled out of court. Many personal injury claims are resolved this way. In exchange for giving up the slip and fall claim, the insurance company pays the claimant a lump sum or an allotment of structured settlement payments.

The value of a claimant’s settlement will depend on many factors, such as:

  • The nature of a person’s injuries;
  • How quickly someone recovers;
  • The value of a person’s lost wages and medical bills;
  • Whether there is conflicting evidence found in the claim; and
  • The severity of the property owner’s breach.

Also, deciding whether to resolve a claim through a settlement must be taken very seriously because most settlements are full and final.

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. The civil statute of limitations is an important limitation on premises liability injuries. A statute of limitations specifies how long a person injured has to file a lawsuit against the defendant. Each state has its own statute of limitations for reporting these injuries. Therefore, the sooner the victim files a claim, the more likely they are to be able to recover damages.

A court will typically consider the respective fault of each party involved in the incident when determining damages. A judge may reduce damages awarded if they determine that the injured party was somehow at fault for their injuries. A judge may also deny a damages award altogether. The plaintiff’s (victim’s) contributory negligence is usually responsible for this.

When a judge determines that the victim is entitled to damages, these may 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.

Should I Contact a Lawyer if I Have Been Injured at a Museum?

If you have been hurt or injured during a visit to a museum and want to assess the viability of your claim, the advice of a personal injury lawyer can be extremely helpful. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you investigate your injury and recover damages.

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