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Premises Liability Claims

April 23, 2021

A premises liability claim arises out of damages caused by a condition in or on the property of another. The most common type of premises liability claim is the ever-most popular slip and fall case. I once had a case where my client did not fully fall. I like to take credit for coining it as a slip-and-jerk case. After a lot of back and forth with an insurance company, we were able to get fair compensation for our client.

When talking about premises liability claims, you have to start by explaining that there are two kinds of classifications for premises liabilities. Depending on your status while on someone else's property will greatly impact a possible recovery on a claim. You have your “invitees” and you have your “licensees”. An invitee is someone who enters the property of another with the owners’ knowledge and for the mutual benefit of both. In layman’s terms, an invitee is someone who enters a commercial property. The general rule is a landowner must make the property safe or warn against any unreasonably dangerous condition that the owner knows or should know of its existence. A licensee is a person who enters the property of another by expressed or implied permission not expressed or implied invitation. Layman terms once more, a licensee is someone you invite over to your home for a barbecue. A landowner owes a licensee the duty to make the property safe against any unreasonably dangerous condition that the owner knows of its existence and the licensee does not.

It's important to note that as a property owner inviting guests can be held liable for damages to them. Your liability is limited but I always caution you to play it safe and be vigilant as to the dangers lurking about in your property. At the very least a property owner should point out hidden dangers if eliminating them has not been done. Also, very important to carry insurance just in case.

Premises liability claims most often arise out of a duty owed to an invitee. These cases are very fact-intensive. The fact that someone experiences an injury is only the tip of the iceberg. Take a slip and fall, for example, to bring a claim you’ll need to identify what caused the fall, did it create an unreasonable risk of harm, was the owner aware or should they have been aware, did they exercise due care, and was all this the cause of your injuries?

Most people do not think like lawyers. I think that this is a good thing; It can be exhausting to constantly point out liabilities everywhere you go. But if you ever get injured because of a defect in the property of a business you’ll want to stop and take a closer look. There is no need to remember the elements of a claim previously mentioned. A simple who, what, where, when, and why analysis will suffice. The good ole Five W’s we all learned in school will come in handy here. If you can tell a detailed story an experienced attorney will be able to point out where the elements of a claim fit. Unfortunately, in many instances, the facts aren’t gathered properly and severely limit the ability to move forward with a case. For example, with a slip and fall, if an inquiry into the slippery substance and the length of time it had been there is not done, then it will make it difficult to mount a strong case if there is one. Many may think that the fact that there is a substance that made a floor slippery is enough to make a premises liability claim, but it is important to note the element of awareness. If you are at a grocery store and a banana peel falls to the floor then immediately after, you pass by and slip on it. This alone is not enough. An owner by law must be allowed to correct the issue.

This is but a snapshot of what a premises liability claim involves. If you find yourself in a situation that may give rise to a premises liability claim it is important you speak to an experienced attorney.

*Post Note: A property owner also owes a duty to a trespasser, as hard as that may be to believe. As one could imagine the duty owed is significantly less than the duty owed to a licensee or invitee. A property owner owes a trespasser the duty to refrain from injuring the trespasser through willful, wanton, or grossly negligent acts or omissions. So don’t go setting death traps to stop someone from burglarizing your home. This is partly why it is a good idea to put a beware of dog sign on your gates. A situation where a trespasser can mount a good claim for being injured by your dog won't be a slam dunk case but it's best to play it safe.