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Premises Liability

Premises Liability - An Overview

Every year, many people are hurt while in someone else's home or place of business. People may be injured on a flight of stairs, on a patch of ice or snow, by a building defect, or by the intentional, criminal act of a third party. 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. Generally, the law provides that property owners must keep their premises reasonably safe for people who are on the property. If you have been injured while on property belonging to someone else, it is essential that you seek legal advice as soon as possible from an experienced personal injury attorney.


Premises liability cases generally proceed under the theory that the defendant (the landowner or occupier) was negligent. 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. As discussed in more detail below, the duty that a landowner owes to a particular person depends on that person's legal status as an entrant on the land.

Duties of Landowners or Occupiers

Under traditional common law theories, the duty of an owner, occupier or possessor of land to a person who enters the premises and is injured because of the condition of the premises depends on the status of the entrant. Entrants are typically classified as invitees, licensees or trespassers, and the duty that the landowner or occupier owes to each class of entrant is different. An invitee is someone who enters the land in response to an express or implied invitation from the landowner. 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 the landowner's benefit, such as a social guest. A trespasser is someone who enters the land without the owner's permission.

Many jurisdictions still adhere to the common law status classifications today. However, some jurisdictions in the United States have rejected the common law classes of entrants as determinative of liability. Of these, some have adopted a rule that provides that an owner or occupier of land has a duty of reasonable care under all circumstances, and the status of the entrant is merely a relevant factor in determining whether the injury was foreseeable and the landowner negligent. In addition, in some states, there are statutes that govern the standard of care owed by certain landowners or occupiers to certain classes of entrants.

Governmental Immunity in Premises Liability Cases

One of the most common premises liability situations occurs when a member of the public is injured by a defect on a public sidewalk or roadway. In these cases, it would seem clear that the governmental unit responsible for maintaining the road or walkway should be held legally responsible for the person's injuries. Traditionally, however, governmental entities enjoyed protection from suit under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which provides the government complete immunity from suit. State and federal governments have reduced this broad sovereign immunity over the years by passing laws that limit or reduce the immunity of government entities in certain situations. These laws vary from state to state, but most are modeled on the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which is a federal law that waives the sovereign immunity of the federal government under certain circumstances and allows it to be sued.

The Federal Tort Claims Act (28 U.S.C.A. §1346, 2674 et seq.) waives the immunity of the United States from tort liability for the acts of its officers and employees. Generally, a person who is hurt by a dangerous condition on federal property can recover damages from the United States in a premises liability suit if he or she can establish that the US's negligence was caused by a government employee acting within the scope of his or her authority; that a duty was owed to the injured party; and the that duty was breached by a hazardous condition about which the government knew or should have known. There is an exception to the allowance of claims under the FTCA known as the discretionary-function exception. This exception expressly excludes any claim based on an act or omission of a government employee who exercised due care in the execution of a statute or regulation. It also excludes claims based on the performance of, or failure to perform, a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or government employee, regardless of whether discretion was abused.


If you have been injured on someone else's property, you should obtain advice about your legal options. An experienced personal injury litigation attorney can advise you about the rules that apply to your case.


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