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Premises Liability

Frequently Asked Questions about Premises Liability

Q: What is premises liability?

A: Premises liability is the area of the law that establishes guidelines regarding duties that a property owner or occupier has to protect entrants from dangerous conditions or defects on the property. Premise liability claims are generally brought under a negligence theory. To establish negligence, an injured plaintiff must establish the existence of a duty by the defendant to conform to a specific standard of conduct; breach of that duty by the defendant; that this breach was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury; and that the plaintiff was injured.

Q: What is a licensee?

A: Under common law principles, a licensee is a person who enters the premises with the landowner's express or implied permission for his or her own purposes rather than for the landowner's benefit. A social guest is considered a licensee. A property owner or occupier has a duty to warn licensees of dangerous conditions on the property that create an unreasonable risk of harm if the property owner or occupier knows about the condition and it is not likely to be discovered by the licensee.

Q: I was injured while at a party at a friend's house. Can I recover for my injuries?

A: As a social guest, you would be classified as a licensee under the common law. As a licensee, your friend had a duty to warn you of dangerous conditions that create an unreasonable risk of harm if the conditions were known to the friend, but not likely to be discovered by you. If you were injured by a hidden condition, such as a broken step that the friend knew about, but did not warn you about it, you may be able to recover for your injuries.

Q: What is an invitee?

A: Under common law principles, an invitee is a person who enters property in response to the property owner or occupier's express or implied invitation. Invitees can be broken down into two categories. The first group is people who enter as members of the public for a purpose for which the property, such as a museum, church or airport, is open to the public. The second category is people who enter a property for purposes connected with the property owner or occupier's business, such as customers, delivery people and employees.

Q: My child was injured after slipping on spilled food at the grocery store. Can he recover damages for his injuries?

A: A customer at a grocery store is classified as an invitee under common law principles. The grocery store has a duty to use reasonable and ordinary care to keep the property reasonably safe for customers. The store has a duty to make reasonable inspections to discover dangerous conditions, such as spills, and to make them safe. The store's employees should routinely inspect areas the public uses to discover any potentially dangerous conditions. However, if the spilled food was so obvious and visible that your child should reasonably have seen it, the grocery store does not have a duty to warn. Under the "attractive display" doctrine, spilled food might not be considered obvious if a store's display distracts the child and he does not see the spill.

Q: Who are potential responsible parties in a premises liability case?

A: There may be more than one person or entity that may be held responsible for your injuries. The first person is the property owner. Other potentially liable parties include a tenant, landlord, security guard or company charged with patrolling the property, management company in charge of maintaining the property and third party whose intentional, criminal actions caused your injuries while on another's property.

Q: Can a business owner be held liable if a person is injured by a criminal attack by a third party on the business's property?

A: If you are injured by a criminal attack on the property of a commercial business, that business is generally not liable for your injuries unless the business should have reasonably foreseen the crime occurring. For example, if there were several prior attacks similar to the attack at issue, you may be able to establish that the attack was foreseeable. In that case, the business owner has a duty to use reasonable care to protect entrants from foreseeable crimes.

Q: What is negligence per se?

A: A statute or regulation may define the applicable standard of care in a specific situation, and a violation of that statute may constitute negligence per se. The statutory standard of care replaces the reasonable person standard in the concept of ordinary negligence. The following elements must be met in order for a statutory duty of care to apply: the statute or regulation must clearly define the required standard of conduct; the statute or regulation must have been intended to prevent the kind of harm the defendant's act caused; the plaintiff must be in the class of persons the statute or regulation was designed to protect; and the violation must have been the proximate cause of the injury.

Q: What type of damages can I recover in a premises liability case?

A: Premises liability cases are a type of personal injury case. As with other personal injury cases, you may be able to recover damages for out-of-pocket expenses, such as medical bills, the cost of prescription drugs, physical therapy and medical equipment. You may also be able to recover lost wages and damages for pain and suffering, mental distress and physical impairment.

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