When a visitor is hurt on someone’s property, that owner can be held responsible for those injuries. This is known as “premises liability.” Premises liability is the basis for every slip and fall case. The legal argument works like this: The property owner was responsible for keeping walkways clear of danger. If you slip on their property, injuring yourself, you can hold them responsible for their dangerous environment.
A premises liability claim involves at least one of the following:
- The owner created a dangerous space.
A store owner is remodeling their space, and dangerous tools and materials are exposed all over the store. Remodeling is happening as customers are filing in and out. Suddenly, something goes wrong. A beam swings down, hitting a customer, and they fall back onto an exposed saw. This owner’s actions have caused a direct threat to anyone entering the space.
- The owner ignored a dangerous space.
Imagine a store has an exposed wire hanging out of a wall. The owner is aware of it, and she’s working hard on solving the problem. Maintenance will be out in a couple days to mend the issue. Meanwhile, neither the owner nor the management is providing any warning to customers. They haven’t covered the wire, and there are no danger signs. A customer hurts themselves on this exposed wire. This is an example of how the owner can be held responsible for their inaction. They knew a problem existed, yet they did nothing to protect their customers.
Both scenarios are examples of negligence. Negligence is the cornerstone of almost every personal injury case, and it plays an especially important role in premises liability.
People Who Visit a Property
In a premises liability case, the function of the property matters, as does the nature of the visit. Businesses have certain responsibilities to their customers, and homeowners have different duties for their social callers.
People who visit a business space are legally designated as “invitees.” It does not matter if they intend to buy something or if they are just browsing. Anyone who doesn’t work at the business and enters it is an invitee. Invitees are further broken down into two separate categories: business invitees and public invitees.
Depending on the delegation of responsibility, a business’s owner or manager can be held liable for negligence. Businesses are expected to take the utmost care of their visitors. Visitors are the very reason for the business’s existence, so the law is strict about making sure invitees are not harmed.
Public invitees visit public areas such as parks or city courtyards. The manager or even the city itself is responsible for the safety of these visitors.
Licensees are social visitors of a private residence. Anyone at your home for a dinner party is a licensee. Your child’s friend who spends the night is a licensee. Homeowners have far less responsibility for their visitors compared to business owners. While they do have a responsibility to inform visitors of dangerous areas, homeowners are not obligated to make regular safety inspections like business owners.
Private residence owners do, however, have an obligation to make you aware of any dangers on the property. For example, if you are reaching under the sink and hurt your hand on a mousetrap, that is the fault of the property owner. You should have been made aware of traps when the owner saw you grabbing for something.
Requirements of a Premises Liability Case
To successfully argue premises liability, the requirements are the same as almost any other personal injury case.
First, you want recorded documentation for every step of your injury. You must prove to the courts that you were indeed injured, and the injury took place at the alleged location. Every piece of information helps; nothing is insignificant. For example, you can use a receipt to prove that you were at a certain store. You’ll want to keep every piece of evidence related to treatment, from hospital bills to prescription receipts. If you can obtain a copy of your official diagnosis, use that as well. Gather any information you have on your recovery, return visits, therapeutic services, etc.
Next, you need proof of the property owner’s negligence. You need to demonstrate exactly what happened at the location and how the owner/manager was directly responsible. This is where your lawyer can investigate and gather evidence. Perhaps in a slip and fall case, they can observe the floor and see how its design contributed to the fall. Physical evidence can show where you fell, such as something you broke or cracked when trying to break the fall. Maybe there are still marks from your shoes scraping across the ground. Just like documents, no details are too insignificant.
Premises Liability Defenses
Just as your legal team is going to fight hard for your compensation, the defendant’s team is attempting to keep their client from paying damages. Here are some common tactics they may use against your case.
You Were at Fault
One important aspect of your case will be showing that your injury happened because of the other person’s negligence. Due to Texas’s comparative negligence laws, plaintiffs can be held partially or completely responsible for their own injuries. The defendant’s legal team may try to prove that you were at fault for your injury. If you were in a full sprint on an icy parking lot, for example, they’re going to use that fact against you.
Management Was Unaware of the Danger
A big part of any premises liability case is showing that management was aware of a problem and didn’t fix it. The defendant can claim that they didn’t know of the danger. Perhaps the exposed wire was behind merchandise, and the defense will claim no one had seen it.
The Danger Was Obvious
We like to believe that people have our best interests in mind. When you see a “Caution Wet Floor” sign, you take comfort in the fact that management is looking out for you. Legally speaking, warning signs are more about protecting management from liability than they are about protecting you. If you were hurt despite the warnings, defense may argue that there was an “obvious danger,” blaming you for the injury.
Another example of obvious danger would be the presence of an inherently dangerous item. For example, many big box hardware stores have a spinning saw that juts out into the aisle. There is reflective tape around the saw; it is painted red; there are warning signs; and there is a red emergency phone installed right next to the saw. An obvious danger defense will argue that someone who hurt themselves on this saw is to blame, not the store.
“Assumed Risk” is a term reserved for places or activities that have an inherent danger to them. You won’t likely see a retail chain use assumed risk as a defense. When you are in a carnival funhouse with dark rooms and tilted floors, you assume the risk of participating. Similarly, you take a risk every time you pump gas, use a commercial carwash, climb on a playground, etc. The defense will attempt to use your very participation against you in court.
If you’ve been hurt on someone else’s property, give us a call. We have the skill and experience to review your case and see if it needs to go forward to court. We can give you a free consultation, so call us at (817) 591-4222 or contact us online.