Non-Delegable Duties in a Premises Liability Case

Learn about a property owners' liability for accidents that occur on their property, and how they might try to shift liability to a third party.

The owner (or possessor) of land is liable for injuries caused at the property if the owner had a duty of care to the person injured and breached that duty causing the injury. This is referred to as premises liability and generally comes into effect when a guest (invited or uninvited) visits the property and is injured.

Differing Degrees of Liability

The highest standard of duty is owed to invitees; people invited on to the property – for example, guests at a home or customers at a store.

Uninvited persons such as a traveling salesperson are also owed a duty of care under most circumstances. In some states and under varying conditions, these rules may also apply to trespassers on the property.

When these injuries occur in a work environment to employees, they are typically covered under worker’s compensation rules.

Typically premises liability rules are applied the same for commercial and residential property owners and apply to situations such as when the owner fails to repair or warn of a dangerous condition (“defective conditions”) or fails to properly maintain or safely secure the property (“inadequate maintenance or security”). A common example of premises liability is a slip and fall accident.

What Are Non-Delegable Duties?

Because liability can be expensive, property owners may attempt to shift the liability to another party – for example, by making a landscaper responsible for keeping the property in a safely maintained condition.

However, the law prohibits the transfer of liability for issues related to maintenance and security -- and ultimately, the property owner or possessor will be held liable for premises liability in these situations. These duties are called “non-delegable duties.” So, even though a landscaper is hired to maintain the grounds in a safe manner, failure to do so does not make the landscaper responsible. The possessor is still responsible for any injury unclean or dangerous trees, bushes and surface may cause. This same rule applies for repairing the building, grounds or appliances.

However, even though an owner/possessor may not eliminate his or her responsibility to maintain the property, if sued he or she may seek reimbursement from the individual hired to do a job to keep the premises in good, safe working order. (In some cases this is referred to as indemnity.)

In the case of an individual being injured after falling over a broken tree limb or into a hole on the ground, therefore, the occupant can sue the landscaper for the amount of funds paid to the injured party.

Proving injury liability in these types of cases is often difficult, and usually hinges on the availability of evidence showing that the dangerous condition caused the injury and should have been avoided. See our section on premises liability for more information on these tricky types of cases, or talk to a local personal injury lawyer for legal advice specific to your case.

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