What You Need to Know About Premises Liability
November 30, 2015
Sometimes, dangerous property conditions can happen without warning. Other times, property owners may have warning signs, but choose to ignore them. With some exceptions, most premises liability cases come down to a matter of “negligence.” Negligence can be defined as a person acting out of carelessness, or something that a reasonable property owner should or should not do.
What is premises liability? Part of understanding it includes knowing that an accident can occur anywhere — whether it occurs in an office, private home, restaurant or bar, hotel, recreational facility and park, apartment complex, amusement park, or government office building.
When it comes to premises liability or slip and fall cases, it does not matter whether the claimant brings legal action against the property owner or the tenant. Liability for damages to the injured party remains the same, regardless of the responsible party.
Dangerous and Negligent Property Conditions
Nonetheless, just because a person gets injured on a property does not automatically constitute negligence by the property owner. The property may actually be in a state of unsafe condition at the time of the accident, but the condition does not make the owner negligent.
The key to prevailing in a premises liability case lies in proving that the property owner did not exercise reasonable care with respect to the maintenance or ownership of the property.
“Slip and fall” may be one of the most common types of premises liability cases, however it is one of the toughest to litigate. As with any premises liability claim, your slip and fall lawyer must investigate the circumstances surrounding the accident and determine who may be legally responsible for the claimant’s injuries.
Other conditions that can lead to accidents include:
- Tripping and falling
- Poor lighting
- Unsafe or narrow stairways
- Merchandise falling from shelving
- Wet or slippery floors
- Torn carpeting or unbalanced flooring
- Uneven sidewalks
- Building code violations
- Dog bites
- Defective furniture
- Wet or slippery conditions
- Defective or missing handrails
- Deteriorated/uneven sidewalks, parking lots, driveways or road surfaces
- Negligent care of a publicly owned area, such as a pothole in the ground
- Unfenced swimming pools
Some of the most common injuries from a slip and fall accident include:
- Severe bruising
- Deep cuts and bruises
- Head trauma
- Broken bones
- Sprained ankles
- Spinal injuries
Although many slip and fall cases seem minor, many individuals suffer injuries that can have far-reaching effects. The plaintiff may get saddled with exorbitant medical bills and may not be able to enjoy certain activities because of injuries related to the accident. Other costs include:
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Physical disabilities
- Financial hardships
Recovery may even require extensive physical therapy. Under extreme circumstances, a slip and fall case can result in a victim’s death, which can lead to a potential wrongful death lawsuit.
The laws around premises liabilities can be complicated. As with any personal injury case, it requires extensive research and irrefutable evidence to support your claim and ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. A slip and fall accident lawyer may be able to help you obtain fair compensation for a premises liability slip and fall case.
What Is the Status of the Injured Party?
Anyone who suffers an injury as a result of a dangerous or negligent condition on someone else’s property will naturally have questions. They may want to know whether they can be compensated for medical expenses, lost income and other damages. This aspect of the claim entails complex legal analysis to determine the victim’s status upon entering the property.
Invitees — Public invitees and business invitees. The former is the classification of a person who is invited to enter the property when the property was held open to the public. The business invitee refers to an individual who enters the property as a result of an expressed or implied indication from the property owner to enter for the purpose of conducting business.
Think of an electrician called to the home to repair a faulty outlet or a customer who goes to a store to take advantage of holiday sales. Policemen, firemen and garbagemen are deemed invitees under Pennsylvania law. The property owner has the highest duty of care for these groups.
Licensees — This class describes an individual who has the owner’s expressed or implied permission to enter the property. For example, the expressed permission would be an invitation to visit the house for dinner. In contrast, permission refers to any conduct which reasonably justifies the licensee to believe that the owner is willing to allow them to enter the premises if they so desire. This status has often been extended to meter readers.
Although the property owner does not have an obligation to undertake an inspection of the premises to look for possible hazards prior to the admittance of the licensee, the owner does have the responsibility to protect all licensees from dangerous conditions that the property owner knows about or should know about. For example, a property owner can hardly argue that they never noticed an unsecured handrail for a staircase they walk every day.
Trespassers — This group covers people who go into the property of another, not for the benefit of the property owner, but for their own purpose — without expressed or implied consent. The trespasser does not have to have an unlawful purpose. For discovered trespassers, the owner has a duty to make conditions safe or warn the person of the dangerous conditions.
For undiscovered trespassers, the law requires the landlord to refrain from wanton or willful misconduct. Property owners also have a separate duty and cannot engage in certain activities that could harm the trespasser if he knows the trespasser intruded onto the property.
When it comes to children, the law affords them special protection from any artificial conditions on the property that pose a reasonable risk, even for kids who trespass. Property owners must ameliorate the risky conditions. This includes swimming pools, abandoned wells and mines, heavy machinery, and other dangerous conditions that attract curious children who may not understand the associated risk.
Premises Liability and Insurance
The defendant’s ability to pay out for any damages represents one of the most important factors when considering a lawsuit for premises liability. If the defendant does not have the assets or the financial ability to pay, it may not be worth the effort and expense of suing for damages.
In most cases, the primary source of recovery for the victim will be the defendant’s homeowner’s policy or the business owner’s general liability policy. Over the course of performing the preliminary investigation for a premises liability case, the personal injury lawyer will need to answer the following questions regarding insurance:
- Is the property covered by insurance? Properties that carry a mortgage are required to have some type of insurance in place. If the owner owns the property free and clear, most property owners elect to have the type of insurance that will cover premises liability claims. Remember that the owner cannot be held liable for an injury that occurs in a tenant’s apartment or other leased space.For injuries that occur on commercial property, commercial liability insurance would likely be available regardless of fault. Residential leases do not require renters to carry renter insurance.
- What are the policy limits? There’s always the possibility that the policy limits will not cover the amount of the claim.In addition, some clauses in liability policies have different limits for different damages caused by premises liability. There may be one limit for medical expenses and another one for pain and suffering. Claims that exceed the limits of the insurance policy must collect the remaining damages from other alternative sources.
- What exclusions apply for this claim? Many insurance policies contain a clause that lists exception in which the insurer will not pay for a claim. Although most homeowners’ and commercial liability policies cover premises liability, it typically does not extend to reckless or intentional behavior that injures someone. An attorney familiar with personal injury and premises liability law will have the skills to handle this complex situation.
The Duty to Defend
First, the insurer has a “duty to indemnify.” This means that the insurance company agrees to pay for the insured’s legal liability up to the limits of the policy.
Second, the insurance company has a “duty to defend” or cover all of the legal fees and costs to defend the claim, and the insurer must pay any monetary award entered in a judgment against the insured. The rights and obligations of the insured and the insurance company are governed by the rules and exceptions contained in the policy.
Typically, the insurance company runs the show, which adds to the complexity of premises liability cases. However, Pennsylvania law requires the insurance company to conduct all settlement negotiations and litigation in good faith.
Defending a premises liability can be a costly endeavor, especially if the case goes to trial. Cases where a slip and fall settlement can cost less than a trial provides motivation for insurers to settle most premises liability cases.
Workplace Accidents and Government Facilities
In many cases, slip and fall accidents — as well as other premises liability incidents that occur at a person’s workplace — fall under Pennsylvania’s workplace safety laws and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
Generally, federal, state, county or municipal governments have the responsibility for maintenance and safety of the premises. Different laws may apply in slip and fall cases, including the Federal Tort Claims Act and Commonwealth statutes. A claim brought against governmental entities requires a written notice of injury and strict adherence to deadlines.
Fighting for the Results You Deserve
If you or a loved one is hurt on private property or a place of business, consider contacting a premises liability attorney to discuss your case.
If you have lost work or incurred medical costs due to an injury or accident, speak to a lawyer at the KBG Law Firm immediately. Contact us today, and work with a premises liability law attorney to have your claim evaluated. Protect your rights to compensation for your injuries.