Premises Liability-The Duty To Keep Safe
April 30, 2007
The owner or occupier of a property has a legal duty to keep that property safe from dangerous conditions. This area of law is commonly referred to as “premisesliability”. If a member of the public is injured due to an unsafe condition on the property, the owner or occupier is generally responsible for paying for any damages caused.
This responsibility is not absolute–in other words, the mere fact that someone was injured on a property does not automatically create a legal liability on an owner. To be liable, it must be shown that the owner failed to manage or maintain the property in a reasonable manner, and that this failure was a cause of the injury. If a dangerous condition exists on a property (for example, a slippery floor or a poorly lit stairway), the owner will be legally responsible if he or she knew of the problem, or if the condition existed for a long enough period of time that the owner should have known about it. In some circumstances, property owners may even be liable for those injured by criminal conduct on a property.
Take for an example someone getting injured when being mugged in a store parking lot. If the store owner was aware of previous muggings in the past, but failed to provide adequate security or warnings for his or her customers, then legal liability will be created. If there were no previous muggings, however, and there was no reason for the store owner to suspect the danger, no legal liability is created. As another example, assume someone is injured in a grocery store after slipping on some liquid spilled on the floor. If the store owner can show that the liquid was spilled by a third party (such as a customer) only shortly before the fall, the store owner would not be legally responsible for the injuries. If, on the other hand, the injured person could prove that spill was either created by store employees (who should have immediately cleaned it up), or had been there long enough that the spill should have been discovered and cleaned, then the store owner would have legal liability.
The persons responsible for keeping a property safe varies. It includes the owner, of course, but also includes any occupier of the land, such as a tenant, or someone who manages the property for the owner. In brief, one can say that responsibility comes with control. If someone has a right to control the property where an accident occurs, that person most likely has some legal responsibility if an accident occurs. The right of control can often have more than one layer, and therefore more than one person might be legally liable for an injury. For example, the landowner may still have legal responsibility for a dangerous condition created by a tenant since the landowner does not fully relinquish control over a property once a lease is signed. Often, an owner will be held responsible if the mistakes of others create a dangerous condition. For example, if an employee of the owner creates a dangerous condition, or if the condition is created by a third party hired to maintain a property (such as a janitorial service), the owners will be responsible for the dangerous condition as if they created it themselves.
To protect themselves financially, it is prudent for anyone that owns or controls a piece of property, and who is therefore potentially liable for a dangerous condition, purchase insurance to cover this risk. Thiscoverage is included in a standard homeowner’s policy, renter’s insurance or commercial general liability (CGL) policy. When considering the limits of coverage, one should take into account the amount of assets to protect and the likelihood that an injury may occur in the future. For example, someone with more assets to protect, such as an expensive home, should purchase more protection, and someone who is insuring a busy store probably needs more protection than someone insuring a small apartment.