Premises liability is part of personal injury law. It concerns the duty of property owners and their agents to keep their property safe and free of hazards to those persons invited onto their property or who have implied consent to be present such as police, delivery persons or meter readers, though even trespassers have some degree of protection from harm.

In premises liability claims, injured parties generally allege that they slipped and fell on a slippery or hazardous surface or that they were attacked by an intruder or another business patron. However, there are there are numerous other injury scenarios that fall under premises liability principles.

Examples of premises liability claims include:

  • Negligent security leading to assault or robbery in parking lots
  • Defective veranda that collapses and injures or kills those who were on it
  • Swimming pool accident or drowning
  • Slip and fall on steps or floors
  • Defective rug that causes a slip and fall
  • Poor lighting that causes a fall
  • Faulty railing on a stairway
  • Child abuse at a daycare or preschool facility
  • Amusement park accidents
  • Attractive nuisance injuries or deaths
  • Head or other injuries from falling objects

Elements of Premises Liability

To bring a premises liability claim, you or your premises liability lawyer has to prove each element of the cause of action. The degree or manner of proof differ slightly depending on the status of the property owner and the injured party. Generally, the elements are:

  1. The property owner had a duty of care to the injured party
  2. The owner breached the duty of care by not repairing the condition or warning the user
  3. The accident was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
  4. The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the accident

The duty of care entails providing a safe premises or to warn users or persons invited onto the property of an unsafe condition. Notice is a major factor in any premises liability case as the owner may not be considered to have breached the duty of care unless notice was given or is implied because the condition had existed for a long enough time so that the owner should have been aware.

Status of the Plaintiff

The degree of care imposed on the property owner is determined by the status of the injured party:

  • Invitee—a patron of a grocery, department or any other retail business
  • Licensee—a person you invite to your private residence or who is permitted to be there
  • Trespasser-someone who is illegally on someone’s property or in an unauthorized area

Patron and business invitees are afforded the highest degree of care by the business owner. This means that the owner has a duty to not only provide and maintain a safe premises and environment but to take steps to routinely inspect the premises for hazards and to immediately correct or remove them or to adequately warn users of the danger.

For example, a food store owner must routinely look for items such as foodstuffs that fall on the floor that can pose a slipping hazard. The owner does need to have had notice of the hazard either by someone directly informing him of the slippery floor or by virtue of it having been there for a period of time, which is called constructive notice. If the hazard was there for only a few minutes and someone slipped or fell, the owner may not be liable since there was insufficient notice.

This duty extends to amusement park owners or hotels. A ride that has a defective part and causes someone to be ejected can lead to liability if the ride had not been inspected for several weeks that would have revealed the defective part. An intoxicated person at a hotel bar who became drunk there or was allowed into the restaurant area and then assaulted a guest can result in the hotel being responsible for the injured guest’s injuries.

For homeowners, persons who are social guests or otherwise permitted to be on the property are called licensees. The owner only has a duty to have a safe premises and to warn guests of known hazards such as a defective stair or that the outside stairway has poor lighting.

Regarding trespassers, all property owners need only warn the person of hidden dangers or artificial hazards that the owner created if they are aware that trespassers have and will likely come upon their property such as by posting signs in conspicuous places. They cannot place hidden traps that injure the trespasser or they will be held liable for injuries. One aspect of a trespasser is a young child who is attracted to the premises because of a swimming pool or old refrigerator on the property. This “attractive nuisance” doctrine only applies to persons who are too young or immature to appreciate the danger. Property owners have to take special precautions in these cases to avoid injuries.

Damages in Premises Liability Cases

The last element in a premises or any other negligence cause of action is that you prove your damages. Your attorney does this by presenting confirmed copies of medical bills and employment records, school records or receipts of any other economic losses. Medical reports can also prove the reasonableness of medical care as well as the nature and extent of injuries. Witness testimony from yourself, health care providers and family members can demonstrate how your injuries have affected your life, your pain and suffering and any emotional trauma you may have or are still experiencing.

Typical damages include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future wage loss
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Disfigurement
  • Permanent disability
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

Contact the attorneys at Tetzel Law, a Boston personal injury law office dedicated to representing the interests of persons injured by the fault of other individuals or businesses. Our attorneys have successfully handled the most complex premises liability cases and can advise you regarding your own particular injury claim.