Premises liability is an area of law that holds property owners legally responsible for accidents that occur on their property due to unsafe conditions. Premises liability laws are complex, so if you have been injured while on someone else’s property, you are encouraged to speak to a lawyer who can help you understand and protect your legal rights.
In premises liability cases, injuries can range in severity from minor to catastrophic. Some of the most common injuries in premises liability accidents include head injuries, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, and burn injuries.
There are many types of premises liability injuries, ranging from relatively minor injuries to wrongful death. Whether a victim suffers a broken bone, a catastrophic injury, or the tragic loss of a loved one depends on the circumstances and cause of the injury. Regardless of the type of injury, if the accident was the property owner’s fault, the injured should hire an attorney as soon as possible to pursue the compensation to which he or she is entitled.
Relatively Minor Injuries
Some premises liability accidents may cause relatively minor injuries. Bruises, scrapes, lacerations, and broken bones will not likely cause irreparable or long-term damage, but they can be legitimate grounds for a premises liability case.
Gas explosions, slip-and-fall accidents, amusement park accidents, animal attacks, and others catastrophes can leave victims permanently disabled or disfigured, forever changing the lives of the injured and their families. Catastrophic injuries cause severe damage physically and, often, emotionally and psychologically, often requiring intensive, ongoing medical treatment. Common types of catastrophic injuries include:
- Brain Injury – Injury to the skull and/or brain because of an impact
- Spinal Cord Injury – Damage to the spinal cord resulting in full or partial paralysis
- Burn Injury – First, second, or third-degree burns resulting from exposure to heat, flame, corrosive chemicals, radiation, or electricity
Premises liability statistics from 2001 showed that about 5 percent of wrongful death claims in civil trials that year involved premises liability. Persons who survive the wrongful death of a loved one caused by a premises liability accident – whether it be an accidental drowning, gas explosion, fire, amusement park accident, or another disaster – can pursue compensation for their losses, pain, and suffering by contacting a wrongful death attorney.
Slip and fall accidents are among the most common causes of premises liability injuries, but there are many other common causes of premises liability claims, including animal attacks, assault, and accidental drowning.
Many times, when a person slips and falls and is injured, he or she assumes blame for the injury. However, there are some situations in which these types of injuries are the fault of the property owner, not the injured. By entrusting your case to an experienced premises liability attorney, you help to ensure that the cause of your premises liability injury will be properly and demonstrably attributed to the negligence of the property owner.
Slip-and-fall accidents occur when the ground or flooring is slippery or uneven, or when there are obstructions in a person's pathway. For example, a pedestrian may trip over an uneven sidewalk, a pathway with holes in it, an unmarked curb, wrinkled carpet, or foreign objects littering the ground. When the floor or ground is slippery, it can also pose a hazard to pedestrians. Ice, snow, spilled liquids, oil, and housecleaning liquids are among the substances property owners should monitor to prevent personal injury to visitors.
Other Causes of Premises Liability Injury
Other causes of injury can fall under the category of premises liability. Among these are:
- Animal attack: A property owner who keeps an animal on his or her premises is responsible for keeping the animal from harming visitors or passers-by.
- Burn injury: If a visitor is burned in a fire that could have been prevented by the property owner, the property owner may be held liable for the burn injury.
- Assault: In cases of rape, assault, or battery that occur on someone else’s property due to lack of security, the property owner can be held responsible.
- Gas explosions and exposure to toxic fumes: A property owner is responsible for maintaining an environment in which inhabitants are not exposed to unsafe gasses. When his or her failure to do so causes a gas explosion, accumulation of toxic fumes, or another hazard, he or she can be held liable for resultant injuries.
- Faulty machinery: When a visitor is harmed by a defective product or machine on the property – for example, a defective forklift or amusement park ride – the property owner can be held responsible for any resulting injury.
- Accidental drowning: Pool owners who do not take care to cover their swimming pool and take other protective measures can be held responsible for an accidental drowning in their pool.
Damages in a Premises Liability Claim
Victims injured while on another’s property may be eligible to collect premises liability damages, including medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.
When a property owner fails to exercise reasonable care to prevent an accident from occurring on his or her property, he or she may be required to pay damages to anyone who is injured as a result. The compensation a victim obtains depends on several factors, including the type of personal injury, the total amount of insurance available, and the skill of the victim’s premises liability attorney. In general, victims can pursue compensation for medical costs, lost income and other losses, and pain and suffering associated with their injury.
Victims who sustain a slip-and-fall injury, broken bones, a brain injury, a spinal cord injury, or any other injury may be able to recover damages for their medical costs, including:
- Medical and hospital bills
- Rehabilitative care
- Transportation to and from medical appointments
- Ambulance costs
- Prescription costs
- Medical supplies (for example, bandages)
If the victim was fatally injured, his or her family may be able to pursue wrongful death damages to cover funeral and burial expenses and other losses.
Lost Income and Other Expenses
A victim may be compensated for financial losses incurred during his or her recovery from the injury. This includes lost wages and income, and, potentially, living expenses such as housekeeping expenses and childcare. The victim may also be compensated for potential future losses, including the ability to earn an income and to gain promotion to a higher position.
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering damages are difficult to determine because they are often more subjective and emotional than financial losses. Depending on the severity of the injury and its effect on the victim’s everyday life, damages for pain and suffering may cover:
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Inability to enjoy a previous lifestyle or activities
- Loss of consortium (impact on one's marriage)
If the property owner committed a crime or a serious error that should have been corrected, punitive damages may be awarded to penalize the defendant.
Who Can File a Claim?
Certain factors can limit your eligibility to file a premises liability claim, including your reason for being on the property, the timeliness of your claim, and an inability to demonstrate the property owner’s negligence.
When you lawfully enter onto someone else’s property, the owner of that property has a responsibility to ensure that the condition of the property is reasonably safe for entrance and that you are clearly advised of any potential hazards. If you have been injured on someone else's property due to the property owner's negligence, as in a slip-and-fall accident that results in broken bones, a head injury, spinal cord injury, or another serious injury, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit. If you decide to proceed with legal action, it is to your advantage to hire a premises liability attorney because of the complexity of premises liability law. A qualified attorney can determine your eligibility for filing a lawsuit, present a strong case demonstrating the fault of the defendant, and maximize your settlement or jury award.
Proving Fault in a Premises Liability Claim
The complexities of premises liability law can make it difficult to pursue a claim on your own, but an experienced lawyer can investigate your accident and preserve evidence to help prove fault in a premises liability claim.
Whether you have suffered a slip-and-fall injury, a burn injury, or any other type of personal injury on someone else's unsafe property, you must be able to demonstrate several things in order to have a legitimate premises liability claim: that you were injured, that the injury occurred because of a hazardous condition on someone else’s property, and that the accident occurred because the property owner was negligent in his or her duty to ensure your safety on that property. The laws pertaining to personal injury and liability are complex, and it is best to hire an experienced premises liability attorney who is intimately familiar with these laws.
Proof of the Injury
In cases of catastrophic injury, the damage is obvious. However, if your injury is less severe, or if it has healed since the accident, you will need to obtain proof (i.e. medical records, photographs, and witnesses’ testimonies) of the injury.
Proof of Hazardous Conditions
A hazardous condition may be created by water, ice, or snow, uneven or broken flooring, gaps in the floor, faulty lighting, unmarked stairways, and other conditions. Alternatively, it can be created by a defective product on the premises, as in a defective amusement park machine that causes an injury.
Proof of Negligence
A property owner is legally responsible for exercising a reasonable level of care to maintain safe premises, thus preventing injury to visitors. In most states, a “reasonable level of care” is determined by:
- the circumstances under which the injured entered the property
- the intended use of the property
- whether the accident was foreseeable
- whether the property owner took reasonable measures to prevent injury or warn visitors of potential hazards
When a property owner neglects his responsibility to maintain safe premises as defined by these guidelines, he or she can be held liable for any injuries that occur on that property. In some situations, the victim may be found to share negligence, in which case damages may be adjusted to reflect the degree of his or her fault.
Statutes of Limitations
The statute of limitations in a premises liability case vary according to the unique circumstances surrounding your claim. To protect your rights, you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible after an accident occurs.
"Statute of limitations” refers to the deadline by which a person must file a claim. Persons who suffer a personal injury because of a property owner’s negligence have a limited amount of time to pursue legal action. Once this time limit has passed, no claim may be filed, and victims are prevented from pursuing damages for their injuries. State law and the particulars of each case determine the statute of limitations.
When the Statute of Limitations Begins
It is important to speak with a premises liability lawyer as soon as possible after your injury because when the time limit begins depends on several factors. It may start on the date the injury occurred, or it may begin when the victim discovers the injury.
The Length of the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for premises liability lawsuits can range from one year to two or more, depending on the situation and the state in which the injury occurred. It is important for the injured to understand when the statute begins so that he or she does not miss the opportunity to file suit and to ensure adequate time for gathering evidence to prove fault in a premises liability claim.
Depending on the state, exceptions may be made according to specific characteristics of a case. If the victim was a minor when the injury occurred, the statute may not start until his or her eighteenth birthday. Alternately, if the victim is filing charges against a government entity, the statute of limitations may be significantly shorter (six months in some states).
Statistics and Settlements
Premises liability accidents can lead to devastating injuries and even death. Premises liability statistics and well-known premises liability settlements demonstrate how others have obtained compensation for their expenses and losses in the past.
Do I Need an Attorney?
Premises liability laws are highly complex, varying from state to state. It may, therefore, be necessary to hire an attorney to ensure the full protection of your rights. A premises liability lawyer can evaluate your claim and help you determine the best course of action to pursue.