What is a Premises Liability Lawsuit?
Property owners are responsible for keeping their premises reasonably safe to prevent accidents and injuries. A premises liability lawsuit seeks to hold an individual or organization accountable, negligent, and liable for damages resulting from an injury on their property.
Do I Have a Case for a Premises Liability Lawsuit?
A lawyer specializing in premises liability is best able to determine if you have a case to sue a property owner, leaser, or occupier. In general, if you got hurt on someone’s property, you were there lawfully, and the injury resulted from a hazard that should have been prevented, you probably have a case. Some common premises liability accidents and causes include:
- Slips and falls on wet floors or in icy conditions
- Trips and falls
- Inadequate maintenance or failure to make repairs
- Inadequate lighting
- Dog bites
- Accidents on escalators or in elevators
- Leaks and floods
- Toxic chemicals and fumes
- Accidents on construction sites
- Accidents in parking lots
- Inadequate security
Who is Negligent in Premises Liability Cases?
Premises liability law applies to private and public places, from personal homes to apartment buildings, stores, office buildings, government buildings, and more. Whom you sue depends on the situation and the property:
- The owner of the property
- The leaser of the property
- The occupier of the property
- A government agency if the accident was on government property
The owner of a property is not always the liable party in these cases. If the owner leases a building, the tenant is usually the liable party. The occupier has the responsibility for keeping the property reasonably safe. In the case of abandoned property, the last person who occupied it, or was legally entitled to occupy it, is usually liable.
How Will My Lawyer Prove Negligence?
To prove negligence in premises liability, you and your lawyer will need to prove a few important factors:
- The defendant owns the property. Premises liability hinges on who owns, occupies, or leases the property. They are responsible for keeping it safe. You must show this responsibility exists to begin a case against the defendant. For instance, this could be the owner of a retail shop.
- The defendant used the property negligently. You must then show that the owner or occupier acted or failed to act in some way with regards to the property that could cause unintentional harm. A negligent shop owner may have failed to fix a trip hazard on the floor.
- The plaintiff suffered injuries because of the negligence. The injuries must have resulted from the negligence. The negligence does not have to be the only factor in your injury, but it must be substantial. For example, you would not have tripped and hurt your knee on the floor if the shop owner had fixed the uneven surface.
- The injuries resulted in damages. Your injuries must cause damages for you to hold the owner liable. If your trip and fall resulted in a knee injury that required surgery, you sustained significant damages. These are expenses you would not have had without the accident in question.
Another factor is lawful entry to the property. In general, someone who trespasses cannot hold the property owner liable for their injuries, but there are exceptions. For instance, if the owner knows the individual, they may have assumed they are welcome on the property.
Another exception usually involves children. If a child is attracted to something, like a pool, they may not be considered trespassers. This is why it is important to keep pools fenced. It protects children and protects property owners from negligence and liability.
What Damages Can I Recover in Premises Liability Lawsuit?
Several factors come into play when determining damages. Your premises liability lawyer will look over the details of your case to determine what to ask for in a settlement or to seek a jury verdict. Contributing factors include:
- Your status on the property
- The extent of your injuries
- Your current and expected future medical bills
- Degree of disability or disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Lost future income if you are unable to return to the same job or work at all
State laws also impact damages amounts in these cases. Many states rely on comparative fault. This means that if the court finds you to be partially to blame for an injury, it can reduce damages by a relative amount. If the court finds you 50% at fault, your damages decrease by half. Some states also cap non-economic damages.
What Are the Steps in a Premises Liability Lawsuit?
You’ll need a good premises liability lawyer to follow through with a successful lawsuit. You will most likely be going up against a company and their law department, often an insurance company used to fighting back against settlements.
With the right lawyer, you’ll go through these steps to prove negligence and liability and to recover damages:
- Filing a complaint.
A complaint begins the lawsuit and notifies the defendants. It outlines your allegations and what you expect from the defendants. It triggers the discovery period.
- Discovery period.
During discovery, your lawyer will hold depositions, speak to expert witnesses, and share information with the other side. Each side builds a case, gathering evidence to prove or disprove negligence.
With the information in hand, the defendants will most likely want to settle, saving everyone time and money. Your lawyer will negotiate with the defendants to get you a fair settlement.
- A trial in court.
If negotiations fail, you can go to court. Here, a jury will decide if negligence applies and if the defendant is liable. The jury also awards the damages amount, although the judge may change it.
Is There a Time Limit on Filing a Premises Liability Lawsuit?
There is a time limit, known as a statute of limitations, that gives you a certain period of time from the incident to sue. The time limit varies by state and is usually the same as the statute of limitations for personal injury cases in general.
If you think you have a case for a premises liability lawsuit, talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. You don’t want to miss your chance to get compensated for the harm caused you by a negligent property owner.