Property owners have a legal obligation to provide a safe environment for users of their property. This means keeping the property free of slip, trip, and fall hazards and providing adequate lighting and security. When a property owner fails in that obligation, an injured visitor may have cause to seek compensation from the owner for his injuries under a premises liability claim.
Common Premises Liability Claims
When you visit a supermarket, fast food restaurant, discount store, or any other public location, you expect to be able to walk in, shop, eat or visit, and walk out without encountering dangerous obstacles. When hazardous obstacles cause you to be injured, you may have a premises liability case against the property owner. Examples of premises liability claims include the following:
- Slipping on spilled liquid on the floor of a store.
- Falling into a hole that was difficult to see.
- Slipping on ice in front of a store’s entrance.
- Tripping on an uneven sidewalk.
- Falling down a dark stairwell in a parking garage.
- Falling from a height because of a broken or inadequate guardrail.
- Tripping on an unsecured or damaged rug in a movie theater lobby.
- Any other injury caused by owner negligence.
The existence of a hazard and a patron’s injury because of it are not enough to prove a premises liability claim, however. In order to prove liability, a few other conditions must be met.
The Property Owner’s Duty of Care
While a property owner does have an obligation to provide a hazard-free environment, he is not legally responsible for every potential hazard that exists on his property, nor does he owe a duty to every visitor to his property. In order to hold a property owner liable for a hazard, it must be shown that he knew or should reasonably have known that the hazard existed and failed to do anything about it. Legally, these are categorized as follows:
- Notice. When there is evidence that a property owner was notified of a hazard and failed to remove it, the plaintiff will have a very strong case for premises liability. For example, if an employee testifies that he informed the property owner of a broken handrail weeks before an accident, this would be considered notice.
- Constructive notice. While it is a little more difficult to prove, many premises liability cases are based on constructive notice. This means that an owner should reasonably have known that a hazard existed, even if he was not explicitly notified. For example, ice on the sidewalk in front of a store following a night of below-freezing temperatures is a reasonable assumption and one that a responsible property owner should be prepared for.
Property owners are not responsible for the safety of everyone who visits their property. In particular, they cannot be held liable when a trespasser is injured on the property, unless the trespasser is a child. A store owner, for example, would be responsible for the safety of shoppers, delivery people, and salespeople, but not for a burglar who trips on an extension cord while robbing the store at night.
Consider Contacting Our Premises Liability Attorneys
Premises liability claims are not easy to prove and you will need an experienced slip and fall attorney working with you. Many of these cases come down to an argument of comparative fault. The attorneys for the property owner will argue that, while the hazard may have existed, a reasonable person should have seen it and avoided it. In other words, there is shared responsibility for the injury. Without a lawyer on your side, you will likely not stand a chance in front of a jury. If there is evidence of notice or even constructive notice, a lawyer may be able to make a strong argument on your behalf. Even when it is determined that fault is shared, a lawyer will fight to get your fair share from the property owner.
If you were injured in a supermarket, restaurant, or discount store, call our premises liability attorneys as soon as possible.