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Are You Liable If Someone Gets Hurt on Your Property?

Premises liability is a complex area of personal injury law—one that could apply to you in multiple ways. In this article, we’ll cover what premises liability law is and what your rights and responsibilities are in this arena.

First, let’s start by defining some of the terms relevant to premises liability claims.

Premises refers to property. The term premises includes your personal property—your yard, your home’s interior, and even the sidewalk adjacent to your home. This applies whether you own or rent. It also includes land or buildings used for conducting business or owned by a government entity or public agency.

Liability refers to a legal responsibility. Property owners have a legal responsibility to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries on their property.

Owner refers to someone who owns, rents, or controls property.

Negligence is an owner’s failure to exercise reasonable care to (1) discover and (2) replace or repair or (3) provide adequate warning about conditions on their property that could foreseeably lead to someone being injured.

In the context of premises liability, a personal injury is an injury someone suffers on an owner’s property. A premises liability case arises when the injured person claims that their injury is due to the owner’s negligence.

How Does Premises Liability Law Affect Me?

Premises liability can affect you in two ways.

First, you might wonder, “If someone gets hurt on my property, am I liable?” The short answer is, yes, you might be—but only if certain conditions apply.

Second, if you are injured on someone else’s property, you may be eligible to file a premises liability injury claim—but again, only if certain conditions apply.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the conditions that apply to premises liability claims.

Premises Liability Case Examples

Considering some examples is a good way to get a better idea of the nuances of premises liability law. So let’s go through a couple of scenarios.

Scenario #1: Can you sue a restaurant if you fall on their property? Slip-and-fall cases are a common type of premises liability claim.

Suppose a server spills salad dressing in the hallway leading to the restaurant’s bathroom. You leave your table to use the restroom, slip on the unseen salad dressing, and break your wrist as you crash to the floor.

To make a successful personal injury claim, you must prove that:

  • The restaurant owns or leases the property in question.
  • The restaurant owed you a duty of care to ensure that conditions in the restaurant were safe.
  • The restaurant failed to use reasonable care in dealing with the spilled salad dressing.
  • The salad dressing caused your fall.
  • The fall caused your injury.

This case would most likely hinge on the matter of reasonable care.

Was there a yellow caution sign by the spill? If so, a jury might decide that the sign was an adequate warning about the dangerous conditions caused by the spill.

How long had the spill been on the floor? If the spill occurred two minutes before your fall, it might not be fair to say that it should have been cleaned up already. But if the spill took place two hours before your fall, a jury might consider the restaurant to have been negligent.

Scenario #2: What if someone got hurt on my property while drunk?  Can they sue you? 

If the injured person makes a premises liability claim against you, the fact that they were drunk when the accident occurred might be considered to be (1) the primary cause of the accident or (2) a partial cause of the accident. Thus, the circumstance of the person being drunk might mitigate some or all of your liability for their injury.

These examples highlight some of the complexities of premises liability injury cases.

Other illustrations of premises liability include:

  • Safety from criminal conduct: Owners are obligated to take reasonable steps to protect individuals on their property from criminal conduct, such as a mugging or an assault. Reasonable steps might include installing lighting to discourage criminal activity at night.
  • Dog bites: Owners are responsible for injuries their pets inflict on customers or guests.
  • Protection from toxic substances: Owners must take reasonable steps to protect customers or guests from exposure to things like pesticides, herbicides, lead paint, asbestos, or mold.

Who Is Liable in a Premises Liability Case?

The primary party who is liable in a premises liability case is the property owner, as defined above.

In some instances, there may be additional liable parties. For example, suppose there’s an open trench in the parking lot outside a store where the store owner has hired a plumber to carry out repairs on underground pipes. At night, a pedestrian walking through the parking lot falls into the trench and is injured. In this case, both the store owner and the plumber might be liable.

Landlord premises liability is another special case. Consider a landlord who owns an apartment building. The landlord is responsible for ensuring people’s safety in common areas, such as the building’s foyer, recreation room, swimming pool, or parking lot. However, although a landlord must turn over an apartment to a tenant in a safe condition, they are not liable for unsafe conditions that arise afterward unless they (1) know about the conditions and (2) have the ability and right to fix them.

Who Can Bring a Premises Liability Claim?

There are several different statuses that qualify someone to bring a premises liability claim:

  • A person invited onto someone’s property, sometimes referred to as a social guest or an invitee
  • A person who goes onto someone’s property to conduct business (e.g., to shop in a store or to install a dishwasher), sometimes referred to as a licensee
  • A trespasser

Things get a bit tricky when it comes to trespassers. Adult trespassers are expected to be aware that they shouldn’t be on someone else’s property uninvited, so they aren’t accorded the same level of protection as invitees and licensees. However, in some circumstances, even a trespasser can make a premises liability claim. For example, if a property owner knows people walking in the neighborhood regularly cut across their land, the owner can be held liable for dangerous conditions that affect those trespassers.

Child trespassers are considered differently; they aren’t expected to know that they’re trespassing. Therefore, property owners need to take special care with regard to children. 

For example, if you have a pool on your property, it might be attractive to neighborhood children. If the gate that leads to your pool is open and a child falls into the pool and drowns, a jury might consider you negligent.

What Parties Are Involved in a Premises Liability Case?

The main parties involved in a premises liability case are the plaintiff (the injured person) and the defendant (the property owner).

Some cases involve secondary claims with third parties, such as a contractor or landscaper working on-site or the manufacturer of a defective or dangerous product involved in the injury.

What Is a Property Owner’s Responsibility Related to Premises Liability?

A property owner must exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of those who visit their property. Reasonable care means that an owner must:

  1. Take steps to discover any dangerous conditions on their property. In other words, an owner’s ignorance of dangerous conditions on their property does not necessarily protect them from liability for those conditions. A grocery store might take the reasonable step of having an employee check all aisles for spills every fifteen minutes.
  2. Repair or replace items that present a danger to visitors OR provide adequate warning about the dangerous conditions. A plumber might place bright orange cones around an open trench as a warning to people walking in the vicinity of the trench. A landlord could repair or replace a broken handrail on a stairway in the lobby of their apartment building.

How Do You Prove a Premises Liability Case?

To prove negligence in a premises liability case against an owner, you need to show that:

  1. The owner had a duty of care to ensure your safety.
  2. The owner failed in their duty of care.
  3. You were injured on the owner’s property.
  4. Your injury resulted from the owner’s failure in their duty of care.

What Types of Compensation Can Be Awarded for Premises Liability Injuries?

If you’ve suffered an injury because of a property owner’s negligence—a mall, a restaurant, a theme park—you may be eligible to receive economic compensation for things like:

  • Medical expenses for treating or going through rehab for your injury
  • Lost wages if your injury keeps you from working
  • Funeral or burial costs (when suing for wrongful death on behalf of a family member that has been killed)

In addition, you may be able to collect noneconomic compensation, which includes payment for things like:

  • Physical pain
  • Emotional distress
  • Disability or disfigurement

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Initiating a Premises Liability Case in California?

In California, the statute of limitations (or time limit) for initiating a premises liability personal injury case is two years from the time of the injury.

An exception to this is a circumstance known as delayed discovery. Delayed discovery applies in two situations:

  1. You were injured on someone’s property, but the symptoms didn’t manifest until some time after the incident occurred. In this case, the two-year time limit begins from when you “discovered” you were injured.
  2. You were injured on someone’s property, but you didn’t immediately know that your injury was caused by the owner’s negligence. In this case, the two-year time limit begins from when you “discovered” the owner’s negligence.

What Is Comparative Fault in California?

California law applies a principle known as comparative fault to premises liability injury cases. Under the legal doctrine of comparative fault, more than one party can be held responsible for an accident. Here’s how it works.

If a case goes to trial, the jury will determine what percentage of the blame for an accident should be assigned to each party involved in the case. In other words, the jury could decide that a property owner is partially to blame, but that the plaintiff (the injured person) is also partially at fault. If the plaintiff is found to be 10% at fault, they can only collect 90% of any damages awarded in the case.

Here’s an example: Suppose an acquaintance ends up drunk at a dinner party at your house, trips on a broken concrete block in your front walk, and gets a concussion.

The acquaintance claims you were negligent because you didn’t repair or post any warning about the broken block. You argue that the accident happened because your acquaintance was drunk.

The jury finds that you are 70% responsible for the accident and the acquaintance is 30% responsible. The jury awards $10,000 in damages. Applying comparative fault, the plaintiff (the acquaintance) can only collect 70% of the damages, or $7,000—that’s 100% of the damages minus their 30% share of fault for the accident.

Contact a Bakersfield Premises Liability Attorney

If you’re dealing with an injury that resulted from an accident on someone else’s property and you believe the accident was caused by the property owner’s negligence, we recommend you discuss your case with one of the experienced Bakersfield premises liability attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark. 

It’s difficult to recover from an injury—you may be coping with pain, missing work, and watching your medical expenses pile up. Our premises liability lawyers can relieve some of that mounting pressure by helping you pursue the compensation you deserve. Reach out to us today for a free consultation.

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