Premises Liability Legal Information

OVERVIEW

Premises liability lawyers represent people who’ve been injured by an accident in a public place or private home. These accidents are often called slip-and-fall accidents, because the most common scenario is a trip, slip or other stumble caused by carelessness in construction or cleaning. However, an organization that invites the public onto its premises is responsible for any sort of accident that could have been prevented with a reasonable amount of care.

Premises liability laws vary from state to state; there is no federal premises liability law. But all are based on the idea that everyone is legally required to take a reasonable amount of care in order to avoid causing an accident. Specifically, the owner or operator of land open to the public is legally liable if he or she does not take reasonable care, and someone is injured as a result. Because of this, premises liability lawsuits are almost always filed by an individual against a company.


“HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE A PREMISES LIABILITY CASE?”

Each state has its own specific laws about what actions could cause liability and who is liable. But generally, you can win a premises liability lawsuit if:

You were seriously hurt in a place open to the public. This includes private businesses and sometimes private homes.
The owner or operator knew or should have known about the danger, but failed to take reasonable care, and it led to your accident.
You were not trespassing. In some cases, people who can reasonably anticipate trespassing may still be liable for injuries to trespassers.

“Reasonable care” has limits. Owners or operators don’t have a duty to protect their invitees from ordinary, reasonable risks of harm -- just unreasonable risks. Posting an easily-seen sign warning visitors about an unsafe condition is usually enough to show reasonable care. Similarly, a business isn’t liable for accidents that happen right after something slippery is spilled -- it gets a short grace period before it’s liable for any injuries the spill causes.


“WHAT KINDS OF PLACES AND PEOPLE ARE COVERED BY PREMISES LIABILITY LAWS?”

Legally speaking, a premises liability lawsuit is filed against the possessor of the premises where the accident happened. The law usually defines the possessor as either the owner or the operator of the premises. (Occasionally, a “squatter” may be held liable.) However, if a third party like a janitorial service is directly responsible for the dangerous conditions, that party can be held liable instead of or along with the possessor. You’ll have to speak with a premises liability lawyer for specifics in your case.

Nearly every type of public accommodation in the United States might be liable, including:

  • Grocery stores
  • Other commercial retailers
  • Restaurants
  • Amusement parks
  • Some government agencies

“IF I AM HURT ON A PUBLIC SIDEWALK OUTSIDE A BUSINESS, WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?”

Generally, state laws make premises owners responsible for the safety of the public walkways outside their businesses. That means business owners have a duty to clear away snow and ice; avoid drainage that could flood the sidewalk; rake away leaves; and take care of cracks or other dangers.

Businesses aren’t legally liable for injuries that take place outside a certain specified distance from the entrance to the business. If you are injured further away, you will need to sue the local or state agency that maintains the walkway. Some state and local governments have laws protecting them from any liability, no matter how injured you may be. Others are completely liable. You may have to consult a premises liability lawyer in your area to find out what laws apply to local governments.



“DOES AN OWNER OR OPERATOR HAVE TO POST EMERGENCY SAFETY SIGNS?”

Yes. Emergency safety signs are the signs that direct visitors to emergency exits and staircases in a fire or similar situation. Businesses must post emergency safety signs under the same laws that require them to warn visitors of dangerous conditions like spills and holes in the floor. There may also be local laws requiring emergency signs. Premises liability law might apply if:

Emergency exit signs are missing
Emergency exits are blocked
Fire alarms or other alarms don’t work
There’s no staircase to use in case of fire



“IS A HOST IN A PRIVATE HOME SUBJECT TO PREMISES LIABILITY LAW?”

In most cases, social hosts are liable under premises liability law. But guests in private homes are held to a slightly higher standard than patrons of a business. The people responsible for maintaining the premises -- the owners or renters of the home -- are liable if:

The hosts knew or should have known about a dangerous condition, can’t reasonably expect the guests to recognize the danger, and should have realized it posed an unreasonable risk to the guests.
The hosts failed to fix the problem or warn their guests.
The guests didn’t know or have reason to know about the dangerous condition.

The main difference between liability in private homes and in businesses is the third item, which gives guests legal responsibility for paying attention to dangerous conditions. Social hosts, unlike businesses, are frequently sued over attacks by aggressive dogs. They may also be held responsible for giving an obviously intoxicated person more alcohol, especially if that person is under 21.


“WHAT IS INADEQUATE OR NEGLIGENT SECURITY?”

Inadequate security lawsuits are special types of premises liability lawsuits, which say the premises owner failed to secure the property well enough. They’re filed in response to injuries or losses that resulted directly from a lack of security -- usually from a crime. This is often, but not always, a serious and violent crime like armed robbery. Premises owners and operators must take reasonable care to prevent crimes from injuring their customers, guests and employees.

Examples of inadequate security could include:


  • Failure to hire enough private security officers when it’s reasonably necessary
  • Faulty lighting or no lighting
  • Broken or inadequate locks on doors and gates
  • Faulty or nonexistent alarms
  • Not enough visibility for security or for visitors

This type of lawsuit most often applies to businesses -- all of which are potential targets for robberies -- but may also apply to private homes or landlords in high-crime areas.

PAYMENT

Premises liability lawyers usually work on contingency, a fee arrangement in which they take payment only at the end. This works because premises liability lawsuits ask for money. If you win a premises liability lawsuit, your lawyer will get a percentage of the money you win, agreed to before he or she took the case. If you lose, both you and the premises liability lawyer get no money at all. This is believed to inspire hard work and cost-cutting by the lawyers. It also allows people without lots of money to hire a lawyer.

Even if your premises liability lawyer works on contingency, he or she may ask you to pay for court costs and administrative fees during the case. You should have a chance to learn about this before agreeing to hire the premises liability lawyer. Most premises liability lawyers offer free initial consultations, meetings at which you discus fees as well as the case itself, the lawyer’s experience and anything else you feel is important.