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)
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:
Let's look closer at each element.
The first thing you must prove is that the defendant owned, occupied, or leased the property. In a good premises liability case, it will be clear that the owner, occupier, or lessee had a duty to inspect the property and to make sure that the property was in reasonably good condition based on its intended use. See Property Owner vs. Occupier Liability for Personal Injury for more on this.
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.
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 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.
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.