Premises liability is a legal term that courts and attorneys use to explain certain aspects of personal injury cases where a defective or unsafe condition on someone’s property caused another’s injury. Like most personal injury litigation, premises liability is generally about proving negligence. Owners owe visitors a duty of care; if they neglect that duty, they can be held responsible.
Premises liability incidents can happen anywhere – apartments, hotels, and restaurants, among other places. These cases can be complex, and they aren’t only about slips and falls, though many do involve slip and fall injuries. If a hotel owner didn’t provide proper parking lighting and it led to a car accident or a criminal assault, he or she could be responsible for the victim’s injuries. If the rail on the balcony of an apartment fails, the company that owns the property may be liable – especially if a renter had already asked someone to repair the rail.
Cases Involving Premises Liability
To win financial compensation in a premises liability case, the plaintiff – the injured person – must prove that his or her injury was the direct result of the property owner’s negligence. Typically, this means the property owner didn’t use reasonable care in the upkeep of his or her property. Premises liability covers many areas, including:
- Snow/ice accidents
- Slip and fall cases
- Defective conditions on property
- Inadequate care of property
- Inadequate security (if it led to an assault)
- Escalator/elevator accidents
- Dog bites
- Flooding/water leaks
- Toxic chemicals
- Swimming pool accidents
- Amusement park injuries
Keep in mind that just because a person is hurt on another’s property, it doesn’t mean it’s automatically the owner’s fault or that he or she was negligent. To prove negligence, plaintiffs must prove:
- They were seriously hurt
- The unsafe condition of the property caused the injury
- The owner knew (or should have known) of the hazardous condition but failed to warn anyone or take steps to repair the issue
Even in situations where a plaintiff can prove all of these aspects, there are further issues. For instance, it matters why someone is on the property.
People who enter an establishment or property fall into one of three categories: invitees, trespassers, and licensees. The duty of care that the law requires a property owner to give depends on the category:
- A trespasser is a person who enters a property but has no legal authority to do so. The only duty a property owner owes a trespasser is to not willfully or recklessly cause this person injury. If someone is trespassing, the property owners owe no responsibility to that person unless he or she is a child (an owner has a duty of care to lock a pool gate, for example, to protect a trespassing child).
- A licensee is someone who the property owner has given permission to be on the property and who is not there for business. These may be guests at the owner’s home for a party, or friends with an open invitation to visit. If licensees overstep their boundaries, however, they can become trespassers.
- An invitee is someone with whom the property owner is doing business. Property owners owe the largest duty of care to invitees. Examples of invitees would include the renters in an apartment complex or the customers in a store.
A Property Owner’s Duty Under the Law
According to Pennsylvania law, it’s a property owner’s duty to take care of hazardous conditions or otherwise warn invitees and licensees of the situation. If the owner doesn’t know about the hazardous situation but reasonably should have, he or she may be responsible for injuries that occur as a result.
If you’re unsure of your duty of care as a property owner or have been injured at an establishment and want to understand your rights, speak with an experienced PA attorney at Anapol Weiss.