What Can I Do to Keep My Premises Safe?
Anyone who is a property owner has a legal obligation to maintain their property in a way that will keep all of their guests safe. This responsibility extends to both private and public property owners, and when someone is injured on their property, they may be liable if they haven’t provided a safe space. An accusation of responsibility for an injury or accident that took place on your property is frightening and may seem indefensible, but there are some requirements that need to be met for a property owner to be held legally liable.
What is the Duty of Care for Property Owners?
The Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions outlines the duty of care for property owners as the “duty to use reasonable care in keeping their property in a reasonably safe condition.” To be more specific, property and landowners are legally required to:
- Maintain a reasonably safe condition at their property
- Use a reasonable amount of care to ensure they discover any unsafe conditions
- Repair dangerous conditions that could cause harm to their guests, or make their guests aware of them if they have yet to be repaired
Premises liability cannot be delegated to a third party or anyone who works on the property. It is the sole responsibility of the property owner to ensure their property is safe and to inform their guest of potential safety hazards.
What Are the Elements of Premises Liability Lawsuits?
For a property owner to be successfully sued for an injury or accident that took place on their property, the following must be proven:
- Establishing duty: The owner of the property had a duty of care to keep the other party safe
- Breach of that duty: The owner of the property did not meet the duty they were legally obligated to meet due to their own negligence or wrongful decisions
- Damages: The other party suffered legitimate, tangible damages such as hospital bills or physical injury due to the breach of duty committed by the owner of the property
If the prosecution is unable to prove even one of these elements, there is no case against the property owner.
How Can Property Owners Protect Themselves?
While ensuring property safety at all times may seem like an overwhelming task to the typical homeowner or small business owner, there are some actions that can be taken to protect against potential lawsuits.
Securing a good liability insurance policy is one of the most effective and straightforward measures that property owners can take to protect themselves. Liability insurance is usually a component of, or addendum to, typical homeowners insurance policies, and different coverage limits can be chosen. Liability insurance often covers:
- Medical bills: If a visitor has injuries due to an accident that happened on someone else’s property, the property owner’s liability insurance will cover their medical bills so neither party has to pay out of pocket for them.
- Pain and suffering: If a severe injury takes place on someone’s property that results in long-term pain or emotional distress, liability insurance will usually cover or help to pay for the costs of a settlement brought against the property owner.
- Death benefits: Liability insurance policies will provide death benefits to the beneficiary of someone who died as the result of an accident on the property of the insured if that accident was due to negligence on behalf of the property owner.
- Wages lost: If someone has to take time away from work and loses wages as the result of an injury on someone else’s property, liability insurance will cover those wages on behalf of the property owner.
While liability insurance covers a lot of things under many different circumstances, there are also things it won’t cover. For example, liability insurance will not cover intentional injury that occurs on someone’s property, nor will it cover medical bills or any other financial responsibilities that accrue due to an accident endured by someone who lives at the property.
Identify Dangers on the Property
If an injury takes place on someone’s property due to a dangerous condition that could have been prevented, a premises liability lawsuit could be filed against the property owner. However, this can be avoided by ensuring there are few dangerous conditions on the property or providing warnings for such conditions. For example, if there is a large hole in someone’s yard and they only discover it right before an outdoor party on their property, they could post a sign notifying their guests of the hole.
Are There Any Common Defenses for Property Liability Cases?
Property liability lawsuits are complicated because every accident or injury that takes place is unique and there are many different things that need to be proven to successfully litigate them. However, there are some defense strategies that are commonly used by people being sued for damages that occurred on their property.
No Knowledge of the Danger
When a lawsuit is brought against someone for premises liability, that person can only be considered liable for the damages if it can be proven that they knew about the hazard or that a reasonable person would have known about the hazard. If the defendant can prove that they were not aware of the hazard and that no one else in their position would have been aware of it, then there is no case against them.
The Danger Was Obvious
A property owner cannot be held responsible for damages due to a hazard that was obvious and that a reasonable person would have noticed. If someone is aware of a hazard, approaches it anyways, and ends up injured, the owner of the property is not liable.
Defendant Does Not Control the Property
A person can only be legally responsible for property that they have control over. Even if someone owns a property, they cannot be liable for dangers on that property if they are not the one in control of it. If someone slips and becomes injured in a grocery store, the store owner would be liable for that injury, not necessarily the person who physically owns the building.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you have questions regarding premises liability or believe you could be facing a premises liability case, contact the Law Office of Robert J. Kaiser today. With over 40 years of experience litigating personal injury cases, Attorney Kaiser is equipped to handle even the most complex types of cases. Our goal is to fit the exact needs of all of our clients and to provide quality legal services to anyone in need. Contact us today at (661) 441-3446 or via our contact page.