Accidents happen every day. They can be expensive – not just in terms of property damage, but also in terms of medical expenses, emotional trauma, or even the incalculable loss of life. When accidents occur, it is important to establish responsibility in a legal sense. If a person got hurt due to the actions or inaction of someone else, the responsible party may be held liable.
In the case of an accident on private or commercial property, property owners and non-owner residents have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their visitors – this responsibility is legally known as the premises liability. And wherever premises liability comes into the picture after an accident or injury, a premises liability lawyer’s services may be needed.
What is Premises Liability?
Premises liability refers to the legal concept that property owners have a responsibility to ensure that their premises are safe for visitors and guests.
Generally speaking, this means ensuring that the property is kept in a safe condition, taking necessary steps to correct known hazards, and warning visitors about potential dangers or hazards whenever applicable. It does not mean that any accident on your property is automatically your fault.
Property owners may only be held liable for injuries or any damages that occur on their property if they are found to have acted negligently, or failed to act at all (i.e., warning visitors, securing dangerous equipment, fencing off construction, creating a barrier to the pool, etc.).
Examples of valid premises liability cases vary greatly. Some involve private property, such as classic slip-and-fall incidents, dog bites, or illnesses or injuries caused by an unsecured or unattended swimming pool. Commercial property owners also have premises liability. In the case of a retail store, this includes ensuring that the store has adequate security, putting up signage to point out and warn visitors of maintenance work or wet floors, and so on.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common premises liability cases:
Slip and Fall Accidents
The classic personal injury case is the slip-and-fall. Over 800,000 patients are admitted to the hospital each year due to a fall injury, most often due to head injuries or hip fractures. Upwards of 3 million older adults are treated in ERs across the country every year for fall injuries. In 2015 alone, the medical costs of falling alone totaled more than $50 billion.
Slip and fall accidents cover a wide swathe of premises liability cases, including loose railings, wet or slippery floors, damaged flooring, poor lighting, cluttered walkways, poorly maintained or even badly-designed staircases, and more.
Dog Bites or Attacks
Yes, a dog’s actions are the owner’s responsibility – most of the time. Under certain circumstances, a property owner may be held liable for a dog attack that occurs on their property, even if it is not their dog.
Property owners may be held liable if their property is maintained in such a way that even dogs visiting the premises could easily escape any enclosures or barriers designed to restrict the dog’s access to other visitors.
Premises liability lawyers may get involved in cases where a property owner is (or should have been) aware of a dangerous dog on their property, or if the property is one that tends to have many dogs around because the owner provides food and shelter for strays.
Swimming Pool Accidents or Illnesses
Pool maintenance is the property owner’s responsibility. This includes ensuring that access to the pool is controlled, that the pool is property secured (with adequate gating), and that the pool is properly maintained. A poorly maintained pool can cause injury or illness due to a lack of proper sanitation, and an unfilled, unsecured pool can pose a massive injury risk from slips or falls.
It is vital to ensure the safety of your pool; 3,700 people die from unintentional drowning each year – nearly 25% of whom are children and adolescents aged 0 to 19.
Elevator and Escalator Accidents
Residential building owners and commercial property owners alike must ensure that their elevators and escalators are regularly maintained and checked for malfunctions, as per local law. If a building has a property management company, the manager may be held liable depending on the circumstances and their duties to the maintenance of the building. Elevator accidents aren’t always simple cases, though, and determining liability can be difficult.
Fires and Fire Hazards
Fire safety is crucial. This includes ensuring and maintaining safe access to a fire escape, having an adequate number of fire extinguishers on premises, active sprinklers, working smoke alarms, and other measures depending on the nature of the property (whether it’s a small home or an office building with heavy foot traffic), and more.
What Does a Premises Liability Lawyer Do?
A premises liability lawyer specializes in cases involving accidents or injuries that occur on someone else’s property due to the owner’s negligence. If you’ve been hurt on someone else’s property, a premises liability lawyer can help you.
The tasks of a premises liability lawyer include gathering evidence, investigating the circumstances of the accident, talking to insurance companies, and representing their clients whenever necessary, during negotiations, settlement meetings, and in court.
Premises liability law can be complex. There are state-specific differences, and case-by-case nuances. Cases that might seem slam-and-shut to both involved parties may swing either way based on a single delicate detail, such as the legal status of the visitor, the degree to which reasonable precautions were taken, or the circumstances surrounding the accident.