Premise liability refers to a property owner (or property operator’s) potential legal responsibility for injuries sustained as a result of unsafe conditions on on the property. Premise liability cases can exist in nearly every type of structure or open space, and can include accidents involving slips and falls, swimming pools, construction sites, falling equipment, fires, animal and criminal attacks, or inadequate security. In this article, we’ll discuss what makes a viable personal injury case based on premises liability. (For more of the basics, check out Premises Liability – Injury Law Overview)
What The Injured Party Needs to Prove
The elements of a premise liability case will vary from state to state, so it is important to check the laws of your jurisdiction. Generally, however, the injured person (the plaintiff) will have to prove:
- that the person causing the injury (the defendant) owned, occupied, or leased the property
- that the defendant was negligent in the use of the property
- that the plaintiff was harmed, and
- that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm.
Let’s look closer at each element.
Defendant Was Negligent in the Use of the Property
The next thing you must prove is that the defendant was negligent in the use of his or her property. Negligence is a legal concept that holds people accountable in civil court for the unintentional harm they cause to others. You must show that the defendant failed to use the standard of care as required by the particular situation.
Historically, whether or not a defendant was liable for injuries sustained on that property was dependent upon the status of the person entering the land. More modernly, however, some states have rejected this approach and use principles of ordinary negligence instead, when it comes to proving fault.
Liability Based Upon the Status of the Person on the Land.
The historical approach used in many jurisdictions to determine the defendant’s standard of care depends upon the status of the person entering the land. There are three basic statuses: invitees, licensees, and trespassers.
- Invitees. An invitee is someone that enters the land for the financial benefit of the defendant or a person that enters land generally open to the public at large. To invitees, a defendant owes the duty of reasonable care in maintaining the premises. This duty includes an affirmative obligation to make the property reasonably safe for others.
- Licensees. A licensee is any person who is has the express or implied permission of the defendant to enter the land. Social guests, for example, are licensees. However, if the social guest is asked to leave the property and refuses, he or she becomes a trespasser (see below). To licensees, a defendant must fix or warn of concealed dangers he or she knew about of which the licensee was unaware.
- Trespassers. A trespasser is someone who unlawfully enters or remains on the land of another. To trespassers, the defendant owes no duty except to refrain from willfully and wantonly harming the trespasser.
Liability Based Upon Ordinary Negligence.
Many jurisdictions have abolished this “status”-based approach and simply use the reasonable person standard for all entrants onto the land. California was the first state to take such an approach
Under this approach, a defendant has a duty to warn of known and latent dangers which are not known to you and which you could not reasonably discover on your own. This duty extends to dangers which the defendant should have known about if he or she exercised reasonable care.
You Were Injured
You must show that you were injured. You can do this through your testimony, and the testimony of any treating doctors. You can also provide medical bills and expert testimony with regard to your injuries, the extent of your medical treatment, and how your injuries and ongoing medical care will affect different aspects of your life.
Defendant's Negligence Was a Substantial Factor in Causing Your Injury
Finally, you must show that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing your injuries. The harm you suffered must be reasonably foreseeable in light of the defendant’s action (or inaction). And the defendant’s negligence need not be the sole cause of your injury, but it must have materially contributed to your injury.