What Evidence Is Needed to Prove Fault in a Case of Premises Liability?
Proving fault for premises liability requires solid evidence that will stand up under the scrutiny of a judge or jury. Your best chance of obtaining that evidence is working with an experienced lawyer who can perform a thorough investigation into the incident. A skilled attorney can obtain that evidence and make sure evidence is preserved so it will be admissible in court.
Proving Fault for Premises Liability Can Be Difficult
No matter what type of injury you might have suffered, proving fault for premises liability can be a complicated process. Not only do you have to prove you were injured, but you also have to prove you were hurt due to some hazard that existed (or still exists) on someone else’s property. You must also show evidence to back your claim that the reason you were hurt was the negligence of the property owner.
While a property owner has the legal responsibility to make sure he or she maintains a safe property, there are several factors that go into determining the reasonable level of care standard. These include whether the accident could have been foreseen, how the property is intended to be used, the circumstances that led to the injured person entering the property and more. In some instances, a property owner might be held liable, but the court may also find that the person who was hurt was negligent as well.
What Do You Have to Prove to Win Your Premises Liability Case?
If you have been injured on someone else’s property, it is essential you can receive compensation to cover your current and future medical bills as well as any lost wages or lost future earnings that are the result of your injury.
But as we noted above, it can be difficult to prove fault in a premises liability case. It often requires a lengthy process that involves gathering necessary information, which we will discuss more in detail below.
When you are attempting to prove fault in a premises liability case, it involves three crucial factors:
1. Duty of Care
The first important element involved in proving liability is for you and your attorney to establish that the defendant was required to maintain the property in a safe manner. This includes taking basic steps to minimize any possible danger to others when they are involved in actions that could result in harm to them. A key question in a premises liability claim is whether the defendant provided a standard of reasonable care.
You must be able to show that the defendant was the party, or one of the parties, responsible for ensuring that the property maintained this standard of reasonable care when you were injured. You can establish this duty of care by providing a copy of the contract or lease that lists the defendant as one of the responsible parties, by citing one of the jurisdiction’s common law standards or by using an expert witness who can help establish this duty of care on the part of the defendant.
A good example is a food market or a department store that is responsible for providing an environment reasonably clear of any hazard that could harm the customers it invites to shop on its premises.
2. Breach of Duty
Once you have established that the property owner had a duty of care, the next important thing to prove is that they failed to maintain that duty either because of carelessness or negligence.
Carelessness covers any action taken by the property owner that help to create a dangerous situation. For example, a store owner was fixing the sign outside their shop when they took a lunch break but failed to put away the ladder and their tools, and someone is injured as a result.
Negligence occurs when the defendant or property owner knew about a dangerous situation on their property but did nothing to fix it. For example, the lobby of a business tower becomes quite wet on a rainy day but the property owners fail to remove the water in a timely fashion, and someone slips and falls.
3. Breach of Duty Causes Injury
Now that you have shown the first two elements, it is necessary to prove that this breach of duty resulted in your injury. You need to be able to show a judge or jury that since the defendant, either through negligence or carelessness, failed to provide a standard of reasonable care and you suffered an injury as a result.
Since the lawyers for the defendant will no doubt attempt to show that your injury was the result for of some other cause, it is critical for you and your lawyer to prove that this breach of duty was directly responsible for your injuries. The best way to do this is through physical evidence and witness testimony from both experts and anyone who may have seen the accident.
In the example cited above of the business tower with the wet lobby floor, there may be witnesses who can testify to the condition of the floor and who saw you fall and hurt yourself. This is where you can also use a medical expert to show that your injuries are consistent with a slip and fall.
Status of the Person on the Property
Under Pennsylvania law, one of the first things that needs to be decided is the status of the person in relation to the defendant and their property. Your status plays a crucial role in helping you to prove and win a premises liability case. The status of a person falls into one of three categories:
This is an individual who is either a public invitee or a business invitee. When you visit a grocery store, shopping mall or any other place of business, you are an invitee.
Property owners must provide high standards of reasonable care for invitees. For instance, a shopping mall needs to make sure that all its sidewalks and parking lots are salted after a winter storm.
These are family, friends tradespeople or other guests that the property owner has granted permission to be on the property. For instance, if you are holding a party in your home or a backyard barbecue, your invited guests have permission to be on the property. In some cases, this permission may be implied. If your mother comes over to visit, you can assume she has implied permission and doesn’t need special permission.
Suppose there is a loose stone on the front walkway. The owner knows about it. They must warn their family members or their friends of this hazard or any other situation involving risk. If they do not, and someone slips on the loose stone and hurts themselves, this falls under the category of negligence and is evidence of a breach of duty.
If you ask someone to leave the property and they refuse, then that guest or family member becomes a trespasser.
A trespasser lacks the property owner’s permission to be on their property. Property owners do not owe trespassers a standard of reasonable care. If you are injured in some way while trespassing, it is challenging to win a premises liability case.
There are some important exceptions to this rule. If the property owner knows that trespassers frequently enter their property, they are required to give a “reasonable warning” to the trespassers to exercise care to avoid harm. For instance, if people often take a shortcut through your property, a reasonable warning can be posting a sign that warns about a potential danger.
Trespassers are also viewed differently when they are children. This is where the idea of “attractive nuisances” comes into play. For instance, an unguarded swimming pool is often an attractive nuisance. Property owners know that swimming pools attract children. Therefore property owners know they need to erect fences and gates around swimming pools, with locks that are only accessible by an adult.
What Are Examples of Good Evidence That You Can Use in a Premises Liability Case?
Good evidence goes a long way to helping you win the compensation you need in a premises liability case. Once the above standards have been proven – that the property owner was in breach of care and that your status on the property entitles you to a premises liability lawsuit if you were injured — there are certain things you can do to help you prove your case.
You want to take several pictures of the hazard that caused your injuries, such as the wet floor or the icy parking lot. You should try to take these pictures as soon as possible after the actual accident because you want to capture the conditions of the hazard on the day you were injured. You do not want to give the defendant any time to fix the situation so they or their lawyer can claim there was no hazard.
2. Lease Agreements or Property Records
These documents will help to show that the defendant was the owner of the property when you were injured. This will enable you to show a judge or jury that you are making your claim against the correct person or persons.
3. Accident Reports
If you made a report to the police or to the property owner that you were injured, it is important to obtain a copy of that report. If you informed the business owner that you were injured, but did not file a written report, it is important you write down the essential details, such as the time and the date you spoke to the property owner and their name and position, as soon as possible.
Accident reports may also include statements that the police may have gathered from witnesses who can support your version of events.
4. Insurance Policies
If you make a claim against the property owner or their insurance company, it will be beneficial to obtain a copy of the property owners insurance policy that shows the policy will cover your injuries and damages. This helps your case if the defendant disputes the amount of coverage that their policy provides.
5. Medical Records and Bills
These are two critical pieces of evidence you need to prove your case. Medical records and testimony from your doctor or a medical expert will demonstrate the seriousness of your injuries and the treatments required to return you to health.
Meanwhile, your medical bills will help you show how much the treatments for your injury cost. This will help establish the amount of compensation you will need to recover from your injury.
6. Pay Stubs and Tax Returns
Pay stubs help to establish how much money you are currently losing if you are unable to work. Your tax returns will help you show how much your injury may cost you if you are unable to return to work for an extended period of time because of your injury.
Eyewitnesses play an important role in helping you establish the conditions at the time of your injury and perhaps how you were injured. If you can, you should try to get the names and contact information of anyone who may have seen your accident. If the police prepare a report, they will probably have names and contact information for witnesses.
Other types of witnesses could be family members, friends or coworkers who can testify as to how the injury has affected your life or how much time you have lost from work.
Good personal injury lawyers with experience in personal liability cases will help you find expert witnesses such as doctors or engineers who can connect your injuries to the accident or help describe how a neglected hazard on a property may cause these kinds of injuries.
We know it can feel overwhelming to collect all this evidence to support a personal liability claim when you are injured and trying to recover. Experienced attorneys who understand how to present and win premises liability claims can do much of this work for you, including investigations, speaking with relevant witnesses, finding the right experts who can speak to your case and collect and compile all the evidence that you need to help you win the compensation you deserve.
Get Help From KBG Injury Law
You might think that proving fault for premises liability is cut-and-dried, but there are several complexities involved in convincing the court that the property owner should be held liable for your injury. You will need an experienced lawyer on your side to make the strongest possible case. Get in touch with KBG Injury Law to learn more.
We offer a free consultation. You can call us at 1-800-509-1011 or visit our contact us page where you can leave us your contact details and some information or questions about your claim. A member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.