Premises liability law involves the legal responsibility of owners
and occupiers of property for mishaps experienced by persons on the
property and the resulting injuries. One of the most common causes of
such injuries is a trip or slip and fall, such as on an icy sidewalk, a
loose or uneven stair tread, or a piece of debris or spilled liquid on
the floor. The actual liability of the potentially responsible
individuals varies depending on the rules and principles adopted in the
jurisdiction where the mishap occurred. An experienced premises
liability lawyer can determine whether liability may exist in a
particular case and help an injured person recover damages for lost
wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
General Premises Liability Principles in Personal Injury Cases
Some states' premises liability laws focus on the status of the
visitor to the property. In such states, the plaintiff is generally
defined as either an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. An
invitee is someone who is expressly or impliedly invited onto the
property of another. The owner owes the invitee the highest duty of
care, which includes taking every reasonable precaution to ensure the
invitee's safety. A licensee, by contrast, enters the property
for his or her own purposes but is present at the consent of the owner.
The owner is required to warn a licensee of hidden dangers, but is not
necessarily required to fix them. And finally, a trespasser
enters without any right whatsoever to do so. In the case of adult
trespassers, the owner has no duty of care and need not take reasonable
care of his property or warn of hidden dangers.
Even if the plaintiff is a trespasser, he or she may still be able to
recover, however, if the plaintiff can show that the owner knew it was
likely that trespassers would enter the property. And children are owed
a higher duty of care, regardless of whether they are considered
trespassers. A landowner's duty to warn is also heightened with respect
In states where consideration is given to the condition of the
property and the activities of the owner and visitor, a uniform standard
of care is applied to both invitees and licensees. This uniform standard
requires the exercise of reasonable care for the safety of visitors
other than trespassers. In order to satisfy the reasonableness standard
owed to invitees and licensees, an owner has a continuing duty to
inspect the property, identify dangerous conditions, and either repair
them or post warnings as appropriate.
In proving a premises liability case, a plaintiff must show that the
standard of reasonableness required by an owner has not been met.
Perhaps the highest hurdle that a plaintiff must overcome relates to the
owner's knowledge. The plaintiff must prove that the owner had or should
have had knowledge of the condition in order for liability to attach,
which is often quite often difficult to establish.
One of the commonly applied theories to limit a plaintiff's recovery
is comparative or contributory fault. A visitor has a duty, in most
cases, to exercise reasonable care for his or her own safety, and when
that degree of care is not exercised, the plaintiff's recovery may be
limited or reduced by an amount attributable to his or her own
Slip & Fall Personal Injury Cases
Slip and fall injuries are, as the name implies, injuries that occur
when a person slips, usually on a foreign substance or as a result of a
dangerous condition, and falls. A common slip and fall case occurs when
someone slips on an icy sidewalk in front of a business, or a customer
in a grocery store slips on a grape, lettuce leaf, or other food item
that has fallen on the floor.
The premises owner may or may not be liable for the plaintiff's
injuries in these common scenarios. Although owners and possessors of
real property have a duty to exercise reasonable care to maintain the
premises to protect lawful visitors, if a condition of the premises is
noticed by a customer or other visitor or should be readily apparent,
the property owner may avoid liability because the plaintiff has a duty
to protect himself or herself against the injury. The property owner may
also avoid liability by establishing that the debris had so recently
fallen on the floor or that the ice had so recently accumulated that the
responsible persons had no reasonable opportunity to correct the
condition and avoid the hazard before the plaintiff fell. In other
words, the plaintiff in a slip and fall case, whether it occurs in a
grocery store or elsewhere, must show that the owner had a reasonable
period of time in which to discover the dangerous condition and in which
to remedy it. The determination of what constitutes a reasonable time
will vary from case to case.
Even common accidents such as slips and falls can present complex
legal issues and complicated questions of both fact and law.
Accordingly, if you have been injured in a premises-related case, an
experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney with premises
liability experience is in the best position to advise you on your
rights and secure a favorable outcome.