The legal theory of the concept called “premises liability” makes the owners and occupiers of property legally responsible for accidents and injuries that occur on that property. This means that the owner and occupier should always make sure that the premises they own are safe and conducive for the presence of guests and other people who may lawfully enter the area. Thus, there are a lot of incidents where malls and even amusement parks are held liable for injuries sustained by passers by. The kinds of incidents that give rise to premises liability claims can range from a slip and fall on a public sidewalk to an injury suffered on a amusement park ride.
However, the liability of the occupiers and owners is not fixed and can vary from state to state. This is because each state has the right to formulate its own rules to make sure that the areas within their jurisdictions are able to comply. In some states, the focus of the liability of the owners and occupiers would be on the property and activities being done by both the visitors as well as the owners. It is well to take note that occupiers include the apartment tenant, occupier or possessor of land. These occupiers are treated as owners to some extent.
Legal Status of Visitor: Invitee, Licensee, or Trespasser
For some states, they generally focus on the status of the visitors who pass by the property. There are four types which can be labelled as: social guest, licensee, invitee, and trespasser. An invitee is a person who has been invited onto the property of another. A customer in a store can be classified as an invitee. The invitation means that the owner has taken the steps necessary to provide a secured and safe premises for the invited party. A licensee is a person who is able to enter the property for his own purpose, or as a social guest, and is present at the consent of the owner. Lastly, a trespasser is a person who unlawfully gains access to the premises. Most of the time, a trespasser enters the place without the authority or permission from the owner.
In most state, the rights and duties of the parties are only determined by means of the legality or illegality of entrance to the premises. Indeed, a person who legally entered, the premises also has the right to safety and can legally seek for remedies if that reasonable expectation of safety is breached.
Condition of the Property and Nature of Activities
A uniform standard of care is applied too both invitees and licencees in states where consideration is given to both the property and nature of activities. Thus both the owner and the visitors have corresponding duties to maintain safety. The owner can be held liable if the cause of the injury is something that the owner is knowledgeable about. On the other hand, the visitor can also have his own liabilities if it is proven that he acted with negligence while going around the premises. In this way, the owner is relieved of the burden of being the sole person responsible in all the events that may happen in the area.
There is a need for examination of the following factors in order to properly determine the liabilities of the parties:
- Circumstances under which the visitor entered the property (legality or illegality)
- Use to which the property is put (the use should be reasonable and should be related to the activity being done when the accident happened)
- Foreseeability of the accident or injury that occurred (if it could have been foreseen, the owner should have taken appropriate steps in order to prevent the happening of the accident)
- Reasonableness of the owner/possessor’s effort to repair a dangerous condition or warn visitors (thus, it is the duty of the owner to warn the visitors of the possibility of accident if proper precaution is not done)
Trespassers on Property
Even if the trespassers are unlawful intruders to the property, if the owner had reasonable knowledge of their entrance, the owner could still be liable for accident that happened. If there is a possibility of injury even to strangers, the owner should take appropriate measures to prevent them. The requirement only includes those situations that the owner might have deliberately implemented for the harm of the trespassers. The owner can be freed from the liability if it can be shown that the risk is apparent and in spite of the obvious state, the trespasser still failed to take care of himself.
Children on Property
For children on the property, the amount of care should be greater than the usual care given by the landowner. It is the duty of the owner of the property to always keep in mind that the area is safe to children who do not have the proper discernment to decide which areas are safe and which are not. Thus, extra care is always the rule.
Comparative fault is the assessment of the visitor’s fault relative to the fault of the owner. This is in recognition of the fact that the visitor also has a duty to take care of himself. It would be unfair for the owner to be the sole responsible for the accidents that may happen. If the visitor is proven to be negligent, the liability of the owner will be lessened. It is important part of the law to give responsibility and burden to the visitor instead of merely shifting it to the owner who already has the duty to keep the place safe.
Lessors and Landlords
Since a lease is a special contract, special rules of liability may apply in cases of lessors (landlords) of property. The general rule is that the lessor is not liable for any harm that may be done to the lessee. It is because the lessee is also considered as a possessor with his own duties and liabilities. This is because the lessor does not actually have the control when he is leasing out the property. However, this rule is also subject to exceptions. The exceptions may include facts when the lessor is aware of the risks in the property and he failed to inform the lessee of such fact.
Getting Legal Help for a Premises Liability Injury
If you or a loved one has suffered a premises liability injury, you should seek the help of an experienced lawyer who could inform you of what you should do in order to protect your rights and exhaust the legal remedies possible.