An owner of residential property has the obligation to make sure that their land and home are reasonably safe for anyone who is invited there. Residential property refers to different types of property such as houses, townhomes and condominiums.

If however, someone gets hurt at your residence or land, you can face personal injury liability. Premises liability refers to the rules which govern homeowner liability for personal injury.

What are the Laws on Premises Liability?

Premises liability is governed by the laws and procedures of the state in which the injury occurred. In some states, the court will focus on the legal status of the injured individual while in other jurisdictions, the court will focus on the condition of the property and the activities of both the owner and the visitor. In general, a court will consider different factors to determine if the owner is liable such as:

  • The condition of the property;
  • The legal status of the individual visiting the property;
  • Whether both the owner and the visitor are at fault for an injury;
  • Whether the injured individual is a trespasser;
  • The circumstances under which the visitor entered the property;
  • How the property is being used;
  • Whether the accident or injury which occurred was foreseeable;
  • Whether the owner’s efforts to fix a dangerous condition or warn visitors of the dangerous condition was reasonable;
  • Whether the visitor was an adult or a child; and
  • Whether the owner knew or should have known about a particular condition of the  property.

What are the Different Types of Duties for Property Owners?

Owners of any type of property, whether residential or commercial, have certain duties towards other individuals who are on that property for a particular reason. In some states, the type of duty can depend on who is on the property. The three major categories of people covered by the laws on premises liability are:

  • Invitees: These are individuals who come to your premises to do business with you and you would owe them the highest duty of care. Although invitees are most common in commercial buildings such as stores, it is also possible that someone may engage in a business from their home and may invite other individuals to their home for business reasons. 
    • Thus, even those who come to a residential property for business purposes can be classified as invitees. If invitees are coming to your premises, you have to inspect the premises regularly for any potential dangers and you must either make your residence as safe as possible or warn your invitees about the potential dangers.
  • Licensees: These are individuals who come to your premises for non-business reasons. They come with your permission and they are there for the mutual benefit of both the guest and the property owner. 
    • An example of a licensee would be a neighbor that you invite over for a cup of coffee. You owe an intermediate level of duty towards licensees. You have to either make your residence as safe as possible or warn licensees of any potential dangers that you know or should reasonably know about.
  • Trespassers: These are individuals who come to your residence without your permission and you owe a minimal duty to them.

What are the Defenses to Premises Liability?

There are certain major defenses to premises liability such as:

  • Comparative Negligence: In jurisdictions which have this defense, if a plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident, their damages will also be reduced to that extent. For example, if the plaintiff was 40% percent responsible, their damages will be reduced by 40%.
  • Contributory Negligence: Only a handful of jurisdictions retain this defense. In this case, if the plaintiff was partially responsible, they will not be able to recover any damages from the defendant.
  • Assumption of Risk: The defendant can argue that the plaintiff was aware of a potential danger in the property and assumed the risk of entering the property.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If someone was hurt at your home and you are facing liability, the laws on premises liability will determine whether you were negligent and breached your duty to exercise reasonable care.

However, in most cases, if you are the owner, your homeowners insurance policy will cover you for any liability and your homeowners insurance company may cover the costs of legal fees to handle any claim. That means that if you are the owner, you may not have to do much other than notifying your insurer of the accident and letting them take it from there.

However, if you are the non-owner and if you were injured on someone else’s property and suffered any type of significant injury, it would be a good idea to consult a local personal injury attorney before proceeding.

Most attorneys will take your case on a contingency fee basis which means that you do not need to front the costs of an attorney but instead your attorney will be paid a portion of the money which they recover on your behalf.