Premises Liability: Who Is Responsible?

Property owners (or non-owner residents) have a responsibility to maintain a relatively safe environment so that people who come onto the property don't suffer an injury. This responsibility is known as "premises liability," which holds property owners and residents liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property. The types of incidents that may result in premises liability claims can range from a slip and fall on a public sidewalk to an injury suffered on an amusement park ride. For example, a courier delivering a package may sue you for injuries if he slips and falls on an oil slick in the driveway although if the courier acted in an unsafe way, he or she may not have a valid claim.

This article will discuss how liability is determined when a person is injured on someone else's property. More specifically, you will find information about how liability is determined depending on:

  1. The legal status of the visitor;
  2. The condition of the property and the actions of both the owner and the visitor;
  3. If the person injured is a trespasser or a child;
  4. When both the owner and the visitor is at fault for an injury; and
  5. Special rules for landlords.

Please be aware that liability is determined by the laws and procedures of the state in which the injury occurred. In some states, the court will focus on the status of the injured visitor in determining liability. In other states, the focus will be on the condition of the property and the activities of both the owner and visitor. It's also important to remember that the person occupying property, such as an apartment tenant, is treated in the same manner as a landowner in many situations.

Legal Status of Visitor

In states that focus only on the status of the visitor to the property, there are generally four different labels that may apply: invitee, social guest, licensee, or trespasser.

  • An invitee is someone who is invited onto the property of another, such as a customer in a store. This invitation usually implies that the property owner/possessor has taken reasonable steps to assure the safety of the premises.
  • A licensee enters property for his own purpose, or as a guest, and is present at the consent of the owner.
  • A social guest is just that, a welcome visitor to the property.
  • Finally, a trespasser enters without any right whatsoever to do so. In the case of licensees and trespassers, there is no implied promise that reasonable care has been made to assure the safety of the property.

Condition of the Property and Actions of the Owner and Visitor

In states where consideration is given to the condition of the property and the activities of the owner and visitor, a uniform standard of care is applied to both invitees and licensees. This uniform standard requires the exercise of reasonable care for the safety of the any visitor, except trespassers.

Determining whether the standard of reasonableness required by an owner toward licensees (and in some states, both licensees and invitees) has been met requires an examination of numerous factors including:

  • Circumstances under which the visitor entered the property;
  • How the property is being used;
  • Foreseeability of the accident or injury that occurred; and
  • Reasonableness of the owner/possessor's effort to repair a dangerous condition or warn visitors of the dangerous condition.

Trespassers on Property

With respect to trespassers, if the owner knows that it's likely trespassers will enter the property, he or she may have a duty to give reasonable warning to prevent injury. This requirement applies only with respect to artificial conditions that the owner has created or maintains, and knows may be likely to cause serious injury or death.

Children on Property

A landowner's duty to warn is different with respect to children who aren't authorized to be on the property. A property owner/possessor must give warning if he or she knows (or should know) that children are likely to be on the premises, and that a dangerous condition on the premises is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death. The special duty to children is generally referred to as the "attractive nuisance" doctrine.

When Both Parties Are at Fault

One of the most commonly used limitations on a property owner/possessor's liability is the argument that the injured person was partially at fault for what happened. A visitor has a duty, in most cases, to exercise reasonable care for his or her own safety. Where that care is not exercised appropriately, the plaintiff's recovery may be limited or reduced by his or her own negligence.

Most states adhere to a "comparative fault" system in personal injury cases, meaning that an injured person's legal damages will be reduced by a percentage that's equivalent to his or her fault for the incident. For example, if it's decided that an injured person was 25% liable for an accident, and the total damages were $10,000, he or she will receive only $7,500.

Special Rules for Landlords

Special rules of liability may apply in cases of lessors, commonly called landlords, of property. The general rule holds that a landlord isn't liable to a tenant, or anyone else, for physical harm caused by a condition on the property. This general rule is based partially on the landlord's presumed lack of control over the property once it's leased, but the rule has numerous important exceptions.

Get Free Legal Help for a Premises Liability Injury

If you or a loved one have suffered a premises liability injury, you should speak with an experienced attorney to ensure that your legal rights to compensation are fully assessed and protected. The first step is to contact a lawyer for a free analysis of your claim, with absolutely no obligation. If it's determined that you have a valid claim, many lawyers will work with you on a contingency basis, collecting payment only if you win or settle your case.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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