Premises liability is the legal concept that comes into play in personal injury cases where the injury was caused by some type of unsafe or defective condition on someone's property.
The law of “negligence” imposes on a property owner the duty to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person of ordinary prudence would exercise under the same circumstances to protect or warn others of known dangers and the reasonably foreseeable risks that exist on their property.
Under the general principals of premises liability, the possessor of a land whether it is a residential, business or commercial is under a duty to exercise ordinary care to maintain the land in a reasonably safe condition. This duty includes the duty to regularly inspect the premises and the duty to warn guests or customers of hazards of which they might not be aware.
To be liable for an injury caused by a defective condition on the premises, the owner or proprietor must
have had actual or constructive knowledge of the defect or that the defect existed long enough to
constitute constructive notice of the claim. This can be difficult to prove in many cases. I will provide two
examples to illustrate the point:
Example 1: You are shopping at the supermarket and sometime prior to you walking down the frozen food aisle a mother has her two-year-old boy in a shopping cart with a bottle of water. Unknown to the mother, the boy is shaking his bottle on the floor as they shop. Sometime later you walk into the frozen food aisle and are looking intensely for your favorite frozen burritos when you slip hard on the water fracturing you left hip. You report your injury to the supermarket and an ambulance is called and both the fall and the water on the floor is documented by the employees of the supermarket and the EMT's.
You wish to make a claim for your personal injuries. In order to make you claim you must show either that an employee of the supermarket was made aware of the water spill before your accident and that they failed to take action to either clean it up and/or post the wet floor warning cones or you must show that the spill existed for a long enough time that the employees in their regular duty to routinely inspect the premises should have noticed the spill, clean it up, and posted the wet floor warning cones.
As you can see this is a very difficult burden. By the time an attorney is consulted the spill has been cleaned up, other shoppers who may have been witnesses or who may have reported the spill were not identified and the only investigation was the one conducted by the supermarket itself. This is a tough case to prove.
Example 2: Consider the same situation with you falling due to a wet floor in the frozen food aisle but this time the facts are that the store itself was replacing a broken freezer condenser unit and the cooler melted causing the water to puddle on the floor. The guy working on it left to go get something from the back and failed to post the wet floor cones when you came through and fell.
This is a much easier case to prove because under these facts the supermarket created the dangerous condition and failed to warn its customers. The knowledge burden is proven at the outset.
In general, these cases are generally defended vigorously by the property owner's insurance company. Despite what one may think, simply falling and hurting oneself on the property of another does not create liability. Negligence must be proven. There are several other defenses that will be used to off set any damages such as the condition was “open and obvious” and that the injured person should have seen it if they were paying attention.
The bottom line is that early representation and investigation by a law office is essential to securing the preservation of any evidence and making the strongest legal and factual arguments for a recovery.
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