Premises liability is a tort theory of negligence that assigns responsibility for injuries that occur on real property (i.e. land and buildings) to the landowner. The landowner is variously identified as the property owner or leaseholder.
Overview of Premises Liability
Premises liability is a variation of the “negligence” theory of recovery. Under negligence, a plaintiff can recover compensation if she proves:
- That she is owed a duty by a responsible party;
- That responsible party breached that duty;
- Which caused;
- A measurable injury to the plaintiff.
Premises liability slightly modifies the negligence theory by redefining the nature of the “duty” that landowners owe to people on the landowner’s property. Under common law, the duty owed by a landowner depends on the status of the person who is on the property. There are three classifications of visitors: trespassers, invitees, and licensees.
A trespasser is someone who enters a property without permission. Landowners do not owe any duties to trespassers. Conversely, an invitee is invited onto the property as a guest, for example, during a dinner party. Landowners are required to warn or protect invitees from known dangerous conditions, for example, putting down kitty litter on walk-up steps to counteract ice buildup.
Finally, a licensee is someone who enters properties that hold themselves open to the public as businesses, i.e. a customer. Landowners must protect licensees from (1) known dangerous conditions and (2) reasonably foreseeable conditions. The heightened standard requires landowners to investigate their properties for reasonably foreseeable dangerous conditions.
Identifying the Responsible Party
The responsible party often depends on (1) the nature of the incident that led to the accident, (2) prior history of similar incidents, and (3) the relationship between the injured person and the person responsible for the property.
For example, landowners who rent apartment complexes are not responsible for injuries that occur in individual units unless the landowner was aware of the dangerous condition and the renter was not. For example, if the landowner knows that there is a loose floorboard but fails to warn the renter, and a guest is injured, the property owner is liable. Conversely, if the renter knows that the bathroom is slippery but does not put a mat down, and a guest is injured, then the renter is liable.
The variations on these situations are almost limitless which is why many people rely on attorneys to assist them.