Premises liability involves the responsibility of owners and occupiers of land for injuries that are caused by a dangerous condition on their property. If they fail to exercise due care and caution for people who come onto their property, they can be held liable for damages when those people are injured.
Customers visit grocery and hardware stores, banks, hotels, restaurants, bars, amusement parks, office buildings and other businesses every day. Friends visit friends, family visits family, and sometimes those visits can result in very serious injuries. If owners and occupiers of land ignore dangerous conditions on their property, and they fail to take adequate steps to remedy or warn of those hazards, they can be held liable for damages in cases like:
- Animal attacks and dog bites
- Criminal attacks
- Stairway, elevator and escalator accidents
- Swimming pool injuries and deaths
- Slip and falls and trip and falls
- Slip and falls on snow and ice
- Falling merchandise
- Falls through floors
- Falls off of decks and balconies
Who can have an injury claim?
In general, people on land which is owned or occupied are visitors which are basically invitees, licensees, or trespassers.
Since a different duty is owed by the owner or occupier of land to each classification of visitor, a determination must be made on whether the person claiming injury was an invitee, licensee or a trespasser.
Of the three classifications of visitors, the owner or occupier of land owes the highest duty of care to the invitee. An invitee is on the property through an express or implied invitation for purposes of conducting business that operates to the commercial advantage of the owner or occupier. The duty owed to the invitee is that of ordinary care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. That includes a duty to regularly inspect the premises for unsafe conditions on it that the invitee can be reasonably expected to use. If an unsafe condition is found, and it cannot be immediately remedied, another duty arises to warn invitees of the condition.
A licensee might be on the premises pursuant to an invitation, but the purpose of the visit is purely social. It’s not for the commercial benefit of anybody. Think of a guest who was invited to a person’s home for dinner. The owner or occupier of the house derives no financial benefit from having that guest over for dinner, but he or she shouldn’t expect the licensee to discover or appreciate any dangers on the premises. The homeowner or renter has a duty to repair a dangerous condition, or the licensee must be warned of it. The duty is a lesser duty than that for an invitee.
Owners and occupiers of land owe trespassers the lowest duty. Trespassers have no right to be on the property. Although there might be a duty to warn trespassers of dangerous conditions created by the owner or occupier of land, no other duty is owed.
An exception to the duty rule owed to trespassers is the attractive nuisance doctrine. An owner or occupier of land might be held liable for injuries to young children who are trespassers who don’t have the maturity to fully comprehend the risk that the attractive nuisance presents. Examples of an attractive nuisance might be backyard swimming pools or trampolines. A duty higher than the duty owed to ordinary trespassers might apply if an attractive nuisance exists.
Also, there is a general rule of law that provides immunity to private owners and occupiers of land who allow the general public to use it for recreational purposes. If members of the public are charged a fee for using the property, the immunity is stripped.
Proving negligence and or liability
A person seeking damages for injuries suffered in a premises liability case almost always pleads the law of negligence. To show negligence, the injured person must prove the following elements:
- That the owner or occupier of the property owed him or her a duty of care
- There was a breach of that duty
- The breach of duty caused the claimant’s injuries
- The claimant suffered legally recognized damages
Each and every one of these elements must be proved. Failure to prove any single element will result in the entire case failing. Three defenses that are commonly used to defeat proof of these elements include no duty at all, no breach of duty and comparative negligence.
If you have been injured on someone’s property or at a commercial property such as a grocery store, contact us today. We have been representing clients in Spokane and Spokane Valley since 1948 and will fight to help you obtain the maximum amount of compensation possible for your injuries.