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Premises Liability - Injury on Privately Owned Property

Property owners have a responsibility to keep their properties safe. A property “owner” is actually someone who either owns, occupies, leases, or controls property.

The party that owns legal title to a property is not always the same party that possesses or controls that property. Multiple parties may have a responsibility to keep the same property reasonably safe.

Example 1: Jim owns a commercial building. He leases the building to Kim, who owns a restaurant in the building. Both Jim and Kim are responsible for keeping the premises reasonably safe, because Jim owns the property and Kim occupies, leases, and has some control over the property.

Example 2: Claire owns a 3-bedroom house. Layne rents the house from Claire so that his daughter, Elise, can live there. Claire, Layne, and Elise are all responsible for keeping the premises reasonably safe, because Claire owns the property, Layne leases it, and Elise occupies it.

Parties with such responsibilities must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others. An important consideration is whether such harm is foreseeable under the circumstances.

Example 1: Keith owns a house. There are three stairs leading up to the front door. One of the stairs has partially rotted due to water damage. The mailman walks up the stairs to deliver a package. He steps on the damaged step, which collapses, and he twists his ankle. Keith failed to use reasonable care that would have discovered the unsafe condition and avoided exposing the mailman to that risk. Keith would likely use the stairs himself to go in and out of his own home. He could (and should) have discovered the damage and taken steps to repair it. Even if Keith uses a different entrance and exit, he should reasonably foresee that others may need to use those stairs. He had a responsibility to inspect the stairs and repair the dangerous condition.

Example 2: Ilana owns a small grocery store in a storefront she leases from the property owner. Customers regularly come in, take products from the shelves, look at them, and put them back. Sometimes the customers return them to the wrong location. Sometimes they drop things. Someone accidentally spilled milk on the floor. Jacqueline slips on the milk and falls. Ilana failed to use reasonable care that would have discovered the spilt milk and given her an opportunity to repair the condition or post an adequate warning. It was foreseeable that customers may spill products that they are allowed to handle themselves, and that other customers might slip on a spilled liquid. Ilana had a responsibility to check the floor frequently enough to discover the hazard before anyone got hurt.

Example 3: Dina celebrates her birthday by skydiving from an airplane with a parachute. She tries to control where she lands, but ends up landing on a 500-acre farm owned by Marvin. A fox sees the colorful parachute approaching and enters Marvin’s property to greet Dina. The fox bites Dina’s foot. Marvin could not have reasonably anticipated this harm, because Dina was not supposed to be on his property, nor was the fox. Although Marvin must use reasonable care to discover unsafe conditions, doing so would not necessarily have prevented this hazard.Marvin may not be liable for Dina’s injury.

Example 4: Jose invites his neighbor Steve over for a barbecue. They go into Jose’s backyard, where Jose’s dog has been digging a hole to bury a bone. As they enter the yard, Jose tells Steve to watch out for the hole, and points out its location. Jose has given adequate warning of the hazardous hole. Although he may need to take additional measures to make it safe for others, Jose has likely fulfilled his obligation toward Steve, and would not be liable if Steve tripped over the hole during his current visit.

If you have been injured by a hazardous condition on someone else’s property, there may be multiple parties liable for your medical costs, lost wages, pain, and suffering. Call the personal injury attorneys at Spencer Young Law today for your free consultation!

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