Premises Liability

Overview

People who are injured may be able to recover compensation for their injuries from the owner or possessor of the property on which the injury occurred. Some common types of premises liability cases include the following situations:

  • Slip and Fall. A supermarket fails to mop up a wet floor, and a customer slips and falls as a result.
  • Inadequate Maintenance. A land owner fails to maintain the premises in such a way as to avoid injury to the public, such as when a falling tree branch injures a passerby.
  • Defective Conditions. A store owner fails to repair or warn of a dangerous condition on the premises, such as a broken staircase.
  • Inadequate Security. A parking structure company fails to install adequate lighting or warn patrons about dangerous criminal activity taking place on the premises.

Premises Liability Law

If a person is injured on the property of another, a court will impose liability on the property owner or possessor under premises liability law if (1) the property owner or possessor owed the injured person a duty of care and (2) the property owner or possessor breached that duty of care. Whether the property owner or possessor owed the injured person a duty of care, as well as the extent of care owed, depends on the relationship between the person owning or holding the property and the injured person.

Invitee

An invitee is a person who is invited upon the premises in order to conduct business with the possessor. For example, shoppers are invitees of department stores because the department store welcomes shoppers to purchase merchandise on its premises. Typically, possessors of property owe invitees the highest duty of care. In many states, property owners or possessors must regularly inspect the premises to detect unsafe conditions and to promptly repair or warn invitees about such conditions.

Licensee

A licensee is a person who is present for a non-commercial, non-business purpose at the consent of the possessor of the property, such as a social guest at someone's residence. Several states hold that a possessor of premises owes the same or similar duty of care to licensees as invitees.

Trespasser

Property owners owe the lowest duty of care to trespassers. Typically, property possessors have no duty to warn trespassers of dangers naturally occurring on the premises, such as quicksand. However, if the possessor is aware of the trespasser, then usually a duty arises to warn the trespasser of dangerous, man-made conditions on the property, such as an electric fence that emits a lethal shock.

However, if a child trespasses on land, the property owner or possessor owes a higher duty to warn, repair, and protect from harm, since children are less able to detect dangers because of their youth and inexperience.

Premises Liability of Employers

If an employee is injured at work on the employer's premises, worker's compensation law typically applies rather premises liability law.