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The Basics of Premises Liability

If youve been researching slip and fall accidents because either you or someone you know had one, you may have run across the term premises liability. But what does it mean?

Premises liability is the legal responsibility a property owner or tenant bears for keeping visitors safe. In the case of possible slip and fall accidents, it means keeping surfaces clean from spills, obstacles, holes, and other hazards that would cause people to fall and injure themselves. If the possessor of the property has failed to do that, the victim may claim he or she is entitled to an award under premises liability.

Premises liability can also refer to securing the property from would-be criminals. This is an area of law that is still being defined in many states.

To prevent possible slip and fall accidents, property owners are required to take care so that a safe property is maintained and potential hazards are removed in a timely manner. Time is an important component to potential hazards. Property owners or their tenants may not be liable for a hazard that recently appeared but may be negligent if they had time to notice the hazard and take care of it.

Varying Degrees of Premises Liability

In some states, property owners or their tenants have a different degree of responsibility depending on who visits their property. Visitors may be categorized into four subsets:

  • Invitees, people the property owner has invited, such as a guest visiting a friend who lives in an apartment house, a repairman, or a store customer
  • Licensees, people who have not been expressly invited but do have the owners or tenants permission to be there, such as firefighters
  • A child trespasser
  • An adult trespasser

In Ohio, for example, the possessor of the property has the highest level of responsibility toward invitees, according to a professor at Ohio State University in a presentation about how property owners can reduce their premises liability. This means they must eliminate all known and unknown dangers or warn invitees of dangerous conditions. However, a property owner has the lowest legal duty of care when it comes potential adult trespassers.

In some states, however, such as California, property owners have the same premises liability duty to care for all who may enter their property. For example, property owners in California cannot be sued if a trespasser is injured while pursuing recreation activities, such as hide and seek.

Does Premises Liability Play a Role in Your Case?

If you have fallen and sustained injuries, you may want to speak with an attorney who has experience with slip and fall cases. The attorney can examine the facts of your case in light of the laws in your states to see if you have a valid claim.

Most personal injury attorneys take slip and fall cases on a contingency basis. That is, they dont charge an up-front retainer but will take a percentage of your final settlement or jury award. If an attorney is willing to take your case, that is a good sign that you may prevail.

Of all the various kinds of personal injury cases (which include such cases arising from traffic accidents and dog bites), on average, trip and fall claims tend to fetch less than other types of personal injury cases. That is because in these type of cases, the victim also bears some responsibility for the accident, such as noticing the hazard.

Juries typically calculate a percentage of the liability that rests on the shoulders of the victim and then deduct that amount from any potential award.