Can you sue someone if you fall victim to an injury on their property? It depends on several factors, including the circumstances of the accident that resulted in your injury, whether you had permission to be on the property, and whether the property owner had reason to know that a hazard existed that could cause guests to become injured.
This responsibility is two-fold, in that the property owner or possessor must:
- Regularly inspect the property in search of potential hazards.
- Promptly repair known hazards or warn guests of the hazard with a promptly placed warning sign.
To seek compensation for your injury through the personal injury claims process, you must show that a hazard existed. Beyond that, you must prove that the property owner knew or had reason to know about the hazard, that they were negligent in mitigating the hazard, and the hazard resulted in your injury.
Common Types of Premises Liability Claims
Several different types of accidents can take place on a private, commercial, or public property and give rise to a premises liability lawsuit, including:
- Slip and fall accidents are the most common type of premises liability claim. They occur when a visitor slips or trips over a hazard such as loose or torn flooring materials, liquid or debris on the floor, cluttered walkways or stairwells, defective staircases, poor lighting, potholes in parking lots, and cracks in sidewalks. According to the National Floor Safety Institute, slip and fall accidents account for around one million trips to U.S. emergency rooms each year. Among the most serious injuries to be incurred due to a slip and fall accident is a hip fracture. This injury most often occurs in older individuals and can result in loss of independence or even death.
- Swimming pool accidents. Property owners or possessors must ensure that the mechanical parts of the pool work properly and that the pool is enclosed and safeguarded from child trespassers who could wander onto the property and into the water.
- Dog bites. Many people are not aware that dog bites are a premises liability complaint. However, when an individual experiences an injury due to a dog bite, they most commonly file the claim against a homeowner’s or renters insurance policy. More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the U.S. each year, with around 800,000 individuals incurring an injury severe enough to require medical attention. Dog bites can cause severe lacerations resulting in scarring and other injuries, including soft tissue injuries such as strains and sprains or even bone fractures. Dog bites have a high risk of infection, resulting in serious or even life-threatening complications.
- Elevator and escalator accidents result in around 30 deaths and 17,000 injuries in the U.S. each year. Elevators cause more than 90 percent of these deaths and approximately 60 percent of the injuries, and this type of accident most commonly occurs while the elevator is being serviced or maintained.
- Amusement park accidents result in thousands of injuries and a handful of deaths each year. Common injuries include neck injuries from rides such as bumper cars, drowning incidents on water rides, and even injuries resulting from an individual falling from an amusement park ride.
- Fires and flooding due to the property owner’s failure to repair hazardous conditions such as faulty wiring, plumbing, or broken appliances.
- Negligent security if the property owner fails to take action that would mitigate the risk of a visitor becoming injured due to known criminal activity on the property. The property owner can provide security patrols in parking lots, surveillance cameras on buildings, or locks on hotel or apartment windows and doors.
The Duty of Care Property Owners Owe You
The reasonable actions that a property owner takes to prevent guests from being injured on their property is known as a duty of care. However, the amount of care a property owner or possessor must give depends on several factors, including the type of guest that has suffered the injury.
Generally, a property owner or possessor does not owe any duty of care to trespassers-those on the property without the owner’s knowledge or permission.
However, three other types of guests fall under the duty of care.
- Invitees, which are individuals who are on the property to conduct business. Examples of invitees include customers at a grocery store or a television repair person in the home. These guests should receive the highest duty of care, which includes regular inspections of the premises, prompt mitigation of known hazards, and the placement of prominent warning signs near unrepaired hazards.
- Licensees, who are invited to the property for reasons other than business, such as the dinner guests at a social gathering. Property owners must take reasonable actions to protect licensees, including regularly inspecting the property, fixing known issues, and verbally warning guests of hazardous features.
- Child trespassers deserve an increased duty of care due to the curiosity of their age and inability to understand property lines. The care owed to children must ensure that dangerous property features such as swimming pools or old vehicles or appliances are secured so they don’t draw a child to the hazard.
The Premises Liability Claims Process
If you have experienced an injury due to a hazardous property condition, you can seek compensation through the premises liability claims process. This process generally begins when you seek the assistance of an attorney who can evaluate the details of your claim and help you determine the source of liability and the associated insurance policies that can compensate you. Next, your attorney will likely submit your claim as a demand to the at-fault party’s insurance provider.
Upon receiving the demand from your attorney, the at-fault party’s insurance provider will generally assign a claims adjuster to the claim. The adjuster is someone who works for the insurance company and evaluates the claim on their behalf to determine how much compensation (if any) they need to pay the claimant.
The insurance adjuster does not work for you and their interests are not yours. Their job is to find ways to reduce or eliminate claims.
Once the adjuster has had the opportunity to analyze the claim, they can either pay the demand in full, deny the claim and provide you with a reason for the denial, or offer a settlement. Do not be surprised if the settlement offer for your premises liability claim is far below the claim’s established value. Your attorney can negotiate with the adjuster to get them to increase their offer.
If the insurance company fails to pay your claim in full or offer fair compensation, your attorney can file your claim in civil court and let the court (either a judge or jury) hear the details of the claim and decide.
The Elements Necessary to Prove Your Claim
For a successful claim outcome, you must prove:
- The at-fault party is legally bound to the property as they own, lease, or otherwise control it.
- The at-fault party was negligent in their duty to ensure that their property was free of hazardous features.
- A hazardous property feature that the at-fault party knew or reasonably should have known existed injured you.
In addition to showing that the hazardous property caused your injury, you must document the financial and psychological impacts you suffered or will likely suffer due to your injury.
The Type of Compensation You Can Receive
Individuals injured by an unsafe property condition at a residence, commercial business, or even a public property can seek economic and non-economic damages.
Commonly claimed expenses in premises liability cases include:
- All medical costs associated with the treatment of the injury you sustained.
- Wage loss if your injury prevents you from working, and loss of future earning capacity if your injury permanently impairs your ability to earn what you made before the accident.
- Property damage resulting from the accident, such as damage to your clothing or phone.
- Physical pain and suffering that resulted from your injury.
- Emotional distress over the injury and its impacts on your life.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life if the injury you sustained prevents you from participating in activities and events you previously enjoyed.
Potential Defenses to Premises Liability Claims
While the state where you live may have established a process to seek compensation after an accident resulting from someone else’s negligence, it doesn’t make these cases easy. The insurance company will often use several defenses to avoid a large payout on this type of claim.
Some of the common defenses to premises liability claims include:
- The open and obvious doctrine is a common argument in which the defense argues that the hazard was so apparent that the claimant should have known to avoid it.
- The property owner or possessor did not know a hazard existed. This can apply in a slip and fall claim where the individual slipped on recently spilled water at a grocery store. Because the water recently spilled, the store employees would not necessarily notice it and wipe it up before the accident.
- The property owner did not foresee the potential of injury from the hazard.
- The owner of the property does not control the property, such as if they leased it to another party.
How a Premises Liability Lawyer Can Help?
A premises liability lawyer brings experience and familiarity with the law to your claim. They understand the evidence needed to show that the property hazard existed and that the at-fault party knew or should have known about it.
Additionally, an experienced premises liability lawyer understands the tactics and defenses that insurance companies commonly use to avoid paying out on this type of claim, and how to work with adjusters to garner a fair settlement offer.
Finally, the attorney can tell you the value of your case and what constitutes fair compensation so that you can make the important decisions about your claim.
If you need more information about your case, contact a premises liability lawyer near you.