Premises Liability: Who is to Blame?

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November 07, 2008

Premises liability is a complicated issue and covers a wide range of accidents that personal injury attorneys often categorize as the sticky wickets of law. Why? Because at its core, premises liability is all about figuring out who is to blame for an accident. By definition, the term premises liability is the body of law that fixes responsibility for injuries suffered by a third party on the person who is in possession of a premises or piece of land. In other words, the person who occupies the land and has intent to control it has the responsibility to make sure it is safe and free of obvious hazards.

Some of the most common accidents under the premises liability heading are slip and fall accidents. These kinds of accidents often happen when we least expect them. We're walking through a grocery store and slip on a wet floor, or trip over a loose stone in a restaurant's walkway and break a bone. Injuries like this seem so avoidable, if only the grocery store had put a sign out indicating "Wet Floor!" or if the restaurant had fixed that stone two months earlier when they'd noticed it for the first time. But here's where premises liability gets tricky. If, for instance, there was a sign saying ‘Wet Floor, Beware!' and you slip and fall because you're not paying attention, then you may not be able to prove liability on the store's part for your fall. That's where a good premises liability attorney can help you sort out the issue of negligence and liability. The bottom line is, no two slip and fall cases are the same. There is no set way to determine blame. Only an expert personal injury attorney can tell you if you have a case.

If you should bring a lawsuit against a property owner, the court will weigh how long such a situation existed and whether or not the property owner was careless or unreasonable in allowing a condition such as this to exist. Or whether he warned you the problem existed and you ignored him. Conversely, the court will also determine if the victim is a reasonable person as well. If, for instance, the victim was trespassing on the property owner's land or if he was doing something he clearly shouldn't have been doing - like drinking five beers and climbing to the top of the nearest oak tree - then the court will take into consideration the victim's own actions when determining premises liability.

An interesting premises liability case took place when a married pharmacist lured a woman to his home who'd come to him to fill a prescription. He did not tell her he was married or that his wife would soon be home. Instead, he took her into his bedroom and seduced her. The wife, naturally, came home and discovered them, then proceeded to attack the woman, injuring her. The injured woman contacted a personal injury attorney who specialized in premises liability and sued the pharmacist under premises liability rule of law. Now, that may seem odd, but the attorney argued that the pharmacist was liable because he lured her there under false pretenses. He invited her to his home. It was his duty to make sure she was safe there. The pharmacist was well aware of his wife's propensity for violence. Not only was she getting anti-anxiety and pain medication from him, (making her vulnerable) she was completely unaware he was married. She had made decisions based on false information that, as a reasonable person, she would not have made otherwise. The court agreed and found for the victim.

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Children are a protected class when it comes to premises liability. When a child is injured on someone else's property, a special group of laws apply. Something called attractive nuisance is often involved in children's cases. Often, these cases turn tragic. Recently, a child in Southern California died after climbing through a broken fence to play in a sand tunnel. That broken fence and sand lot had long been the source of worry for many parents in the neighborhood. They complained to the property owner, but nothing was done to repair that fence. The child was killed when the sand tunnel he was playing in collapsed on him. The broken fence and dangerous sand lot posed an attractive nuisance, or something that might pose interest for a child. It was a preventable tragedy. Likewise, property owners have the responsibility to protect other attractive nuisances, such as an unstrapped refrigerator outdoors, an unlocked storage unit, unfenced swimming pool or power equipment. Construction sites must also strictly enforce their safety codes.

Workplace injuries also fall under premises liability law. While employers are held strictly liable for most injuries incurred on-the-job by worker's compensation law, the amount of damages collectable by the injured party is limited. An expert personal injury attorney who specializes in premises liability can determine whether other issues, such as product liability might be involved in such an accident at work. There is a time limit on cases of premises liability so it's important to contact an attorney who specializes in this kind of case as soon as possible after you have an accident.

About the Author

Dietrich Elliot is a freelance writer, teacher and retired Los Angeles personal injury attorney. He writes about personal injury law as it pertains to Los Angeles, the city in which he lives. You can contact Mr. Elliot by emailing him at: [email protected].

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