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Premises liability claims generally require proof that the owner/manager knew of a defect in the premises that caused the injury. That proof comes through investigation and discovery of the case.
Lets look at the claim from the point of view of how the four elements of a tort claim apply. The first element of a tort claim is the establishment of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. The duty in this case arises out of the relationship of the parties. That is, the property owner or the landlord owes a duty of reasonable care to persons who are lawfully on the premises. You may ask what is reasonable care?
Reasonable care is essentially whatever a jury says it is. A textbook definition of reasonable care is that degree of care that a prudent person would exercise in that circumstance. If the owner failed to take some steps to warn the persons lawfully on the premises of the danger then that may be evidence of a breach of the duty to exercise reasonable care.
That breach of duty must be shown to be a cause of injury. The final element of a premises liability claim is simply that of injury or damage. In this case, the injury or damage consists of the personal injury to the plaintiff.
If you slip and fall on a liquid that is on the floor in the local supermarket, do you necessarily have a basis for a claim against the owner of the supermarket? You may not. You must present some evidence of how long that liquid had been on the floor. If it turns out that the liquid had only been there a short period of time and is there because of the actions of some other customer you may have a problem. That is,the property owner did not have a reasonable opportunity to see the liquid and clean it up. There may not be any negligence on the part of that property owner.
The logic of this rule is that a property owner is not a guarantor of the safety of all persons on his premises. The owner is simply required to exercise ordinary care. Obviously he can only exercise ordinary care as to those defects or deficiencies that he has some knowledge of or that he should have known of. In that same example, if you were able to prove that the liquid had been on the floor for twenty minutes, then that may be sufficient to make out a claim against the property owner. Within that period of time it could well be argued to a jury that the property owner should have known that the liquid was on the floor. Therefore he should have cleaned it up or placed signs out to warn customers of the presence of the wet floor. An alternative theory of liability is that the management is negligent in that they do not have an adequate system in place for discovering the defects/deficiencies on the premises i.e. the negligence is systemic and not anecdotal.These premises liability components all must be satisfied to make out a claim.
A person who is lawfully on someone else’s premises and who is injured as a result of some negligence of that property owner may have a basis for a claim against that property owner. The duty or standard of care to which the property owner is held may depend on the status of the injured person. The different statuses that may apply are that of invitee, licensee or trespasser.
Premises liability claims may arise from a variety of circumstances:
Business owners owe a legal duty to customers and others lawfully on their premises to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. If you have been injured as a result of the negligence of a property owner, contact us.
As is true with any type of injury, it is necessary that there be prompt and thorough investigation. In regards to injury claims occurring on premises owned by a third party, that is especially important. These steps may be warranted:
Premises liability claims require proof that the owner or manager of the premises knew of the defect in the premises that caused the injury to you.
Property owners need to be vigilant as to irregularities in walking surfaces that might cause a person to fall. Likewise, any change in elevation in the walking surface could be a potential source of injury if it is not properly demarcated for the person to see that there is indeed a change in elevation. In this regard property owners need to be aware of the fact that during certain times of the day a walking surface may have a certain glare effect and if there is a change in elevation of a step or two there should be some warning to the pedestrian of that impending change in elevation.
Suppose you are a tenant in a large apartment building and there have been a series of crimes committed resulting in serious personal injuries to the occupants. The property owner is aware of those crimes yet takes no steps whatsoever to warn tenants of the crime wave in that building. The owner likewise takes no steps to improve security in the building. If you are subsequently injured as a result of a person coming onto the premises for the purpose of committing a crime then you may have a claim against that property owner. It would be based upon a negligence theory. That is, the property owner knew or should have known that there was a danger to the tenants yet the property owner took no steps to either warn the tenants or to decrease the security risk to the tenants.
From the point of view of a pedestrian or person who is walking on another person’s premises, snow and ice cases must be looked at from a point of view of reasonableness. That is, has the property owner acted in a reasonable fashion in terms of clearing the snow and ice. If the property owner’s conduct in that regard is not reasonable then that may be a basis for a negligence claim. In general a defendant may wait a reasonable period of time after a storm is finished before removing snow and ice from its premises.The defense that may be asserted in that type of case may be either contributory negligence or assumption of risk.
Assumption of risk simply means that the plaintiff recognized that there was a risk and chose to assume it. The mere fact that somebody is walking on a pathway that is covered with snow and ice is not necessarily assumption of risk in all cases. It may be an assumption of risk if the plaintiff had some alternative path to follow. If there was no alternative path to follow and the plaintiff was out during these inclement conditions out of necessity, any defense of assumption of risk may be defeated.
In many instances the ice may be what is referred to as “black ice”. Black ice implies that the ice itself is not visible because it is on a black surface. In some instances however the ice may be on a concrete surface which may be tan or white in color. Either way the ice may not be visible. If the property owner knew or should have known of the presence of the ice and a reasonable period of time had passed since the last precipitation which caused the ice, then the property owner may be guilty of negligence.
Premises Liability Settlements
For more case results that Brien Roche has handled, see our Verdicts and Settlements and Reported Cases. All case results are specific to the facts of that case and no conclusion can be drawn as to how your case may turn out based upon the results of another case.
Brien Roche has over 40 years of experience representing the litigation needs of his Fairfax, VA area and Washington D.C. area clients. For a free consultation about your case, contact us today.
For more information on premises liability see the pages on Wikipedia.