Premises liability refers to injuries suffered by persons on another person’s property. It is the legal duty of property owners to maintain their property in a safe condition. This includes homeowners and owners of retail businesses, grocery stores, gyms, golf courses, bar and restaurant owners. This duty to protect visitors or others lawfully on their property (and to those without permission to some extent) may also apply to individuals or entities leasing or renting property as residences or conducting businesses there.
Types of Premises Liability Claims
Most premises liability claims are slip and falls on someone else’s property. These can occur due to:
- A broken sidewalk
- Uneven steps
- Torn rug or carpet
- Merchandise or food on the floor creating a slippery condition
- Broken handrail
- Poorly lit stairways
- Failure to provide security
- A malfunctioning escalator or elevator
- Improperly stacked merchandise
- Cracks in a driveway
Premises liability also means that property owners may be at fault if someone is robbed or attacked on their property, which usually applies to business owners. This would especially apply had such attacks occurred before and the property owner did nothing to prevent future attacks or warn people of the danger.
Elements of a Premises Liability Lawsuit
To bring a premises liability claim, you must prove each of these elements of this cause of action:
- The owner or operator knew or should have known that a dangerous or hazardous condition existed on the premises
- The owner failed to repair or remove the hazard or give adequate warning of the hazard
- You were injured because of the hazard
One essential element of a premises liability claim is that the property owner had notice of the claim, either directly or constructively. Direct notice refers to the owner having being advised by someone of the danger or having seen it personally. Constructive notice exists if the hazard or danger has been present long enough so that the owner should have known of it.
Status of the Injured Person and Property Owner
The level of care that a property owner owes to an injured person depends on the status of the injured person and property owner. In Florida, 3 categories of persons enter onto someone else’s property:
- Business invitee
If you are a business owner, you owe a high duty of care to those who come to your premises or property to browse or to buy goods or services. This includes grocery stores, gyms, department stores, hair salons, bars and restaurants. If you invite a repairman to come into your home to work, then that person is a business invitee also.
As a business, your duty is more than keeping your property safe and free from hazards such as a broken stair, torn carpet, ice that creates a slippery surface, or spilled merchandise lying on the floor. It also means you have to inspect your property regularly to look for potential hazards.
For example, many premises liability claims occur in grocery or department stores. A careless shopper may have dropped food or a glass jar that breaks. If someone is walking and slips and falls and breaks their arm, then the individual may have a premises liability claim. However, the hazard must have either been told to the owner or an employee at the store or it was there for a long enough time so the owner or employees should have known of it. If an employee of the grocery store was told about the spill but nothing was done for a long period, then the owner had notice of the hazard. There is no set time for how long a hazard must exist but it must be a reasonable time for someone to have noticed it.
Another example is not keeping the business property safe from robbers. If a bar owner knew that robbers were lurking in the bar’s poorly lit parking area and people had been attacked but the owner failed to do anything about it, then a person injured in a robbery could have a claim against the bar owner.
Homeowners must care to persons invited to their property for social reasons. This can include neighbors or friends who appear unexpectedly. This duty includes keeping the property safe from known dangers or hazards or at least warning your guests of the danger. This would include repairing or warning of a broken stair, broken handrail, or that your kitchen floor was just waxed.
Unlike business owners, homeowners have no duty to regularly inspect their property for hazards they are not aware of. For instance, if a light bulb on your outside stairway you rarely use has been out for a day or two and someone fell because of the lack of lighting one night, you may not be held liable.
However, if you have had no lighting on your outside stairway for several weeks or months and had been using it, your failure to have lighting there or to at least warn guests of the lack of lighting may be enough to hold you responsible if someone slips and falls on it.
This also applies to dog bite or attack cases if the injured person could be on the property. If a dog bites or injures the guest, the owner is responsible even if the dog had never bitten or attacked anyone before.
Trespassers are persons who are on property unlawfully or without the permission of the landowner. This can include a person who enters a room or area where they are not allowed to be. This rarely includes a neighbor who shows up unexpectedly at your door unless you told that person he or she was not allowed on your property. Usually, trespassers are burglars, robbers or stalkers. It can also be a person who takes a shortcut through your property.
A property owner is not generally liable to a trespasser injured on the property or premises unless the owner intentionally injured the trespasser such as by setting a trap that injures the individual. An exception is a child who wanders onto the property and falls into a swimming pool or plays with a tool left on the property and injures him or herself. This exception exists because young children are naturally curious and are usually not capable of making good decisions.
If injured on someone’s property, you can bring an injury claim against the owner. If the injury was in a rented home, then you may also claim that the person renter of the unit is also responsible. Your personal injury attorney might also allege that the homeowner’s association or property management company caused your injury if it failed to remove or fix a dangerous condition that led to your injury.
If a business, then the business owner and property owner may be sued. Sometimes, the owner might be the city. If so, there are different requirements on how and when you must bring your claim.
Defenses to a Premises Liability Claim
The most common defenses to a premises liability claim are:
- The property owner lacked notice of the hazard
- The hazard was open and obvious
- The victim assumed the risk
- The victim failed to exercise care in looking after his or her own safety
If a business, the owner must have had either direct or constructive notice of the claim. Regarding homeowners, they may not be liable if the hazard was hidden or unknown to them.
A frequent defense is that the hazard was so obvious and clear that a reasonable person would have seen and avoided it. This might be a large hole in the floor or a large object on the floor that a person trips over. As a victim, you still have a duty to be cautious and careful. If you are walking around a store and texting on your phone and trip over a tool or piece of merchandise that was clearly visible, then you might not be able to collect any compensation.
Regarding the assuming the risk defense, if you knew that a stairwell had a damaged step or was poorly lit and you did not need to be there, then your falling and becoming injured may the result of your assuming the risk of walking on the stairs despite the known dangers.
Give Us A Call
In all cases, have an experienced premises liability lawyer handle your claim. Here at Brooks Law Group, we have spent the last 25 years fighting for injured parties. You are just a click, call, or text away from receiving a free consultation from one of our attorneys. During this challenging time, let us do the worrying for you, so that you are able to concentrate on your health. 1-800-LAW-3030 (1-800-529-3030)