Property owners and occupiers owe a legal duty to any lawful visitor to a property to avoid exposing that visitor to an unreasonable risk of injury due to a dangerous property condition. Most lawful visitors to real property are there by invitation, and in most states, the invitation includes an implied statement that the premises are safe.
There are many reasons that real property, including commercial buildings, residences, and public property, can be dangerous. Among these are poor construction, faulty design, inadequate maintenance, or substandard building materials with manufacturing defects. A personal injury lawsuit arising out of dangerous property is also known as a premises liability lawsuit.
Liability and Damages
If you are hurt on dangerous property or if you are accused of owning a dangerous property that hurt someone, you may be wondering how liability for the injuries is determined. In some states, a visitor's status on the property determines whether he or she can recover for any injuries arising out of dangerous conditions on the property. People who are considered invitees or licensees are owed the highest degree of care and are likely to be able to recover when a property owner's negligence causes their injuries.
There is an implied promise to invitees and licensees that they have been invited to a property that is reasonably safe. However, trespassers cannot recover except in certain circumstances. One exception recognized in many states is child trespassers who are hurt in swimming pool accidents or because of a different "attractive nuisance" on somebody else's property.
In other states, courts will examine the actions of both the owner and the visitor as well as the nature of the dangerous property to assess whether the owner or occupier should be held liable. The owner has a continuing duty to inspect and make repairs to dangerous conditions or to post a warning. Owners are liable when they know or should know of a dangerous condition, or when an accident is foreseeable and they fail to repair or warn, and an injury to a visitor results.
In many of these states, the dangerous condition must be non-obvious under the "open and obvious" doctrine in order for a visitor to recover for injuries based on a failure to warn. However, in those cases, the owner may still be found liable for a failure to repair.
In general, a visitor must use property normally to be able to recover for injuries. This means, for example, if a visitor decides to slide down the banister and the banister breaks, it is not likely that the visitor will be able to recover. Furthermore, if a visitor is found negligent in his or her use of the property, such as by sliding down the banister, the recovery award may be reduced by his or her percentage of fault for a resulting accident.
What if the owner is different than the occupier of the property? It is advisable to bring both an owner and an occupier into a lawsuit, but usually the party with control of the specific location of the injury is responsible for the dangerous condition. For example, if you are the guest of a tenant of a rental property, and you trip on an uneven carpet inside an apartment that came unfurnished, it is likely that the tenant is responsible. However, if you fall through a loose stair that leads up to the apartment while coming to visit, the landlord is likely responsible.
The landlord is also probably responsible for any immovable things inside the apartment that came with it. However, this general rule may change if a tenant knows about an immovable item in the apartment and does not try to get it repaired by the landlord. For example, if a tenant knows that there is a broken tile that could cause a cut or fall and does nothing about it, he or she may be responsible for any resulting injuries to guests.