We have all passed a seemingly abandoned building that looks about to fall down, noticed a hole in the ground in a neighbor’s yard, walked by a patch of almost-invisible ice on a sidewalk, or seen a grill or firepit left burning unattended. More often than not we move along, and nothing comes of it, but what happens when someone is hurt as a result of a dangerous condition on someone else’s property? This type of accident can lead to legal responsibility called premises liability.
A premises liability case is just a particular kind of negligence claim. Like other negligence cases, an injured person can recover for harm he or she suffers when another person owes him or her a duty established by law and causes harm by breaching that duty. In a premises liability case, the duty is based on a person’s ownership or occupancy of property. Someone who owns or occupies property generally has a responsibility to not subject others to unreasonably dangerous conditions on the property.
As you might imagine, the law sets a number of rules for the many specific situations in which this kind of hazard can arise. Whether or not the person hurt had the right to be on the property and the purpose for which he or she was there help determine the level of responsibility the property owner owes. Ultimately a property owner’s duty is defined by how foreseeable it is that someone could be injured by a condition on the property.
Other factors, such as whether or not the property owner has reason to know about a dangerous condition, and whether or not the danger is obvious under the circumstances, also make a difference in how the law holds property owners responsible. Of course, whether or not a hazard is “unreasonable” can be a subject of debate and must be determined in each individual case.
While most of us are familiar with stories of people slipping and falling on icy steps or similar accidents, premises liability can extend well beyond such situations. For instance, consider an employee of a contractor working at a jobsite owned by someone other than his or her employer. Generally, the property owner must provide a reasonably safe place to work and can be responsible if the contractor’s employee is hurt by a dangerous condition at the worksite.
Most of the legal rules in premises liability cases are based on common sense but applying them to real-world situations can be complicated and confusing. Thankfully, many of us will never find ourselves in a situation where we need to understand the nuances of how the law places responsibility for these alarmingly common dangers. However, for anyone who encounters such an unfortunate circumstance, a lawyer experienced in handling premises liability cases can help navigate the process.