What is Premises Liability?

What is Premises Liability?

Simply put, property owners have a legal responsibility to maintain safe conditions for those who venture onto their premises. This responsibility is termed “premises liability” and is governed by premises liability law. These laws define negligence and thus determine who is liable for any injuries suffered by a visitor to a property. If the property owner is found liable, they may be required to pay damages to injured victims.

Premises liability law varies from state to state but the property owner’s degree of responsibility will most often be dependent on the types of visitors to their property. Visitors are classed into three groups: invitees, licensees and trespassers.

  • Invitees

    These are visitors who are on the property for the purpose of conducting business with the owner. This class of visitor includes customers in a store.

  • Licensees

    These are visitors who are not on the property to conduct business but who are still there with the consent of the owner. Social guests are one type of licensee.

  • Trespassers

    These are people who are on the property against the wishes of the owner. This group of visitors has a sub-category in the form of child trespassers. The level of liability when it comes to children who trespass is different from those of adult trespassers in that the property owner’s obligation to warn and to eliminate hazards is greater.

In some states, the property owner’s level of responsibility to provide a safe environment is greatest when it comes to invitees but in other states they are equally responsible for all types of visitors. The negligence of a property owner can take a number of forms that range from failing to remedy hazardous conditions to creating them.

What Constitutes Negligence?

Injury on a particular premises does not automatically make the owner liable. Proof of negligence is necessary. The question will be whether the victim’s actions met the standard of reasonable care. Visitors have the obligation to keep themselves safe and to not engage in hazardous activities. In addition to considering whether a property owner was negligent, the jury in a premises liability case will also consider whether the victim’s actions played any part in their injuries.

Examples of Negligence

If a customer in a grocery store slips in spilled liquid, the storeowner may be liable if they had adequate time to clean up the spill but neglected it. However, they may not be liable if the spill occurred only moments before the customer had their accident. This may be left to a jury, which will take into account the amount of time the store’s management had to respond to the spill. The victim will have to prove that the spill was there for a long enough period that those responsible had the time to notice it and to clean it up. The scenario is altered if it was a store employee who caused the spill, in which case the store may be liable regardless of how much time passed since it was their negligence that caused the customer to slip. Of course, the victim will have to prove that it was the employee’s fault in order to get compensation.

The obligation of the property owner to ensure the safety of those on their premises is not delegable; they cannot pass it on to anyone else. A property owner could still be found liable even if they have contracted a management company to manage their property. It is the duty of the property owner to inspect their property and to ensure that no hazards exist or that visitors are adequately warned of their existence.

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