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Premises Liability: Property Owners Owe Duties to Those On Their Land

When someone goes on another person’s property, it is reasonable for them to expect to not get injured. This means that property owners, or non-owner residents, are held responsible for maintaining a relatively safe environment. The body of law that deals with such law suits is referred to as “premises liability”. The legal theory of premises liability is that property owners and residents are liable for accidents or injuries that occur on their property. The types of injuries that lead to premises liability claims can vary. Here are a few conditions that can give rise to a premises liability claim:

  • Broken or uneven sidewalks
  • Inadequate outside or inside lighting
  • Obstructions on stairways or in aisles
  • Spilled water or other slippery conditions on floors
  • Debris or other objects in aisles, sidewalks or other passageways
  • Broken or missing handrails on stairways
  • Uneven steps or defectively built stairways
  • Poorly lit entryways or stairwells
  • Dangerously or negligently displayed merchandise

In these “premises liability” suits, the injured person seeks to prove that their injuries were caused by the property owner’s failure to make their property safe. Generally, to succeed one must prove the following:

  • Property owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition.
  • Property owner failed to repair and/or give warning of the dangerous condition
  • Plaintiff was injured on the property by the dangerous condition.

In most cases, if a property owner did not know, or had no reason to know, of conditions on their property, then they cannot be held responsible for injuries caused by those conditions. Keep in mind, people entering another person’s property are still required to show reasonable care for their own safety. In fact, one of the most commonly used roadblocks to a property owner’s liability is the argument that the injured party, or Plaintiff, was partially at fault for the injury that took place. Visitors, in most circumstances, have a duty to exercise reasonable care for their safety. Most states, such as Florida, adhere to what is called a “comparative fault” system in personal injury cases. This means that a Plaintiff’s legal damages, or what they are compensated, can be reduced by a percentage that equals their fault for the injury.

Whenever a plaintiff seeks recovery from a premises owner/operator for an injury that occurred on their property, Florida law will classify him or her as falling under one of three broad headings: invitee, licensee, or trespasser. That classification will determine the duty owed to him and plays a significant role in determining the outcome of premises liability claims.

  • Business Invitees: These are people on property for business purposes. Examples include those at a grocery store to buy food, at a boutique to buy clothing, or at a gas station to fill up their gas tanks.
    • DUTY: For Business Invitees, property owners must keep property in a safe condition and either repair or give notice of known dangers. They must regularly inspect for dangerous conditions, such as spills in store aisles or merchandise blocking pathways. Because of the duty to inspect, owners could be held liable for injuries that happen as a result of dangers they should have known about.
  • Licensees: Licensees are owed the second highest standard of care. Licensees include friends, family, and those on the property for social reasons such as a party. Beware they can also include those who arrive unexpectedly, such as uninvited guests, neighbors, etc.
    • DUTY: For licensees, owners must maintain the property in a reasonably safe manner and repair unsafe conditions. They must warn of known dangers.
  • Trespassers: Although trespassers do not have permission to be on the property, they are still owned a duty.
    • DUTY: Trespassers are owed a duty to prevent intentional or reckless injury. Once a property owner is aware a trespasser is on their property, the owner has a duty to warn him or her of any dangers they might not detect with ordinary observation.

Ultimately, an injured person can be compensated by a negligent property owner for accident related expenses such as income lost, medical expenses, emotional distresses, and household assistance. Owning property does come with a lot of responsibilities, and the safety on those on your property is a consideration that must be made, or you risk exposing yourself to liability.

If you are injured on another’s property, or know someone who has been, let the experienced and aggressive personal injury attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA hear your story. We would be happy to sit down and discuss any potential claims with you at no cost. Call us anytime at (727)451-6900.