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What is Premises Liability?

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When determining premises liability, it is important to consult with an attorney, as the laws can vary from state to state. The basis for premises liability law rests in responsibility for certain injuries to an individual which occur on the property, or premises, possessed by someone else. These can be simple “slip and fall” cases or be more involved. However, as the law now tends to favor the premises owner more than formerly, it is a good idea to have your case assessed by an attorney who specializes in such matters. The owner of the premises should also be sure to file an immediate claim with his property insurance carrier, who may hire an attorney to handle any lawsuits.

Determination of the person who possess the premises or real property where an injury occurs in based on several factors, such as whether or not the person occupies or has been in occupation of the land with intent to control it, whether any other person has subsequently occupied or controlled the property and/or if said person and no other person is entitled to occupy the property.

Under the law, the status of the injured party must be determined. This could be as an invitee, a licensee or a trespasser. The duty of the premises possessor varies depending upon this status and is different in various jurisdictions.

The term invitee means that the injured party was invited to be on the premises for some commercial benefit to the premises possessor, such a customer in a grocery store, where the invitation is implied, or as a vendor restocking merchandise, where the invitation is express. The owner of the premises owes invitees the highest duty of care in such a situation, and must take precautions to warn or protect them from harm while on the possessor’s property, if the risk of harm is unreasonable and the possessor knows of or should know of the risk of harm to an invitee. Therefore, the possessor’s duty could include periodic inspection of the premises to ascertain any hazards to invitees.

A licensee is an invited guest to a premises by the possessor for personal, rather than business or commercial purposes. For instance a dinner guest would be a licensee. The licensee must prove the following to hold the premises possessor liable for injury on the premises: That the possessor knew or should have known of the risk and should have expected that the licensee would not know; that the possessor failed to make the condition safe or to appropriately warn of the risk; and, that the licensee had no way of knowing of the risk. For example, if the owner of the property is aware that there is a hole in his yard that is not discernable to anyone looking, he allows the licensee to walk through his yard without warning, and the licensee is injured by a fall, the homeowner may be liable for those injuries.

Although a trespasser is on the possessor’s premises without either express or implied invitation for purposes of their own and not in any way performing a duty to the owner, the possessor can still be liable for injuries incurred. While a possessor does not have to establish unlawful intent, they must prove that they were unaware of the trespassers, in which case they do not have the duty to warn trespassers of any risks on the property. However, if they are aware, the possessor may be obligated to warn of risk and take care to maintain the safety of trespassers.

A premises owner is also generally responsibility for maintaining public walkways, etc., located on and around their premises. Also, these duties can not typically be delegated to anyone else. For example, if a property owner has hired a company to provide maintenance on his parking lot and a customer is injured in a fall, the property owner remains liable for the injury because it occurred on his property.

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