Property Owners Liability - Safety and Prevention

Many people suffer serious injury each year while visiting someone else’s home or place of business. “Slip and Fall” accidents are one of the most common forms of premises liability injuries. Common conditions that lead to premises liability injuries may include wet floors, uneven steps or floors, falling objects, inadequate security, dangerous conditions and the like.

Premises liability deals with the breach of duty that is owed by an owner or occupier of property to protect invitees from dangerous conditions and defects on the property. The owner/occupier has a duty to exercise reasonable care in the management of the premises to ensure persons are protected from an unreasonable risk of harm.

Duty to Keep Property Reasonably Safe

In most every state, a property owner, including a tenant in possession of property, has a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of people lawfully on the property. In the simplest of terms this means the owner bares the obligation to inspect the property. Should the owner find any dangerous conditions, they must either repair those conditions or adequately warn the visitors of potential danger.

If the owner of the property is aware of a dangerous condition, but fails to do anything, the owner may be held liable for any injuries suffered by visitors due to that condition. The property owner’s duties can vary depending on the legal status of the injured person. For example, the duty can vary depending on whether the person was visiting the premises by invitation or if they were trespassing.

A property owner or person in possession of the property bares the legal responsibility for the safety of the premises. Injury Board lawyers that specialize in premises liability cases can advise you regarding the property owner’s responsibility under the law in the state in which you live.

Property Owner Duties and Responsibilities

Property owners owe varying responsibilities, or duties, to those people who come to their property, depending on legal category of the person involved. The law acknowledges three main categories of people who may be on someone else’s property, they are: licensees, invitees and trespassers. The greatest duty is to those who are considered “invitees.” In the states that acknowledge these legal categories, the legal duties owed to each category can differ greatly. It is imperative to ask an attorney if these standards and categories apply within your state of residency.

Three Legal Categories Explained

Invitees -- An invitee is an individual who is invited onto the property by the possessor of the property, such as a member of the public, or one who's invited to the property for the purpose of business dealings. Under such standards, a property owner not only bares a duty to repair or correct any known dangers, he also bares the responsibility to inspect, discover and correct any hidden or unknown hazards on the areas of the premises which an invitee would typically have access.

Such obligations mean the property owner or possessor (a business that occupies the property) has a duty to take reasonable precautions to ensure the environment is safe for all visitors. While there is no exact way to measure what is deemed as reasonable, the law defines reasonable as what a person of ordinary judgment and intelligence would do in the same circumstance.

To better explain, we offer the following example: it may appear reasonable to expect a business owner to conduct inspections on a regular basis, or to maintain and clean stairwells on the property to make sure they are safe and free of hazards. In the reverse, it would be unreasonable to expect a business owner to keep watch all day long to make sure nothing is spilled on the stairs.

Licensees – A licensee is someone visiting the premises for a social function, or solely for their own purpose. Property owners must ensure conditions are safe for all licensees, but the level of care owed to licensees is considerably lower than that owed to invitees. A property owner is only required to take reasonable care to protect licensees from any known hazards on the property; however they do not have a duty to inspect and discover unknown dangers.

Trespassers – A trespasser is an individual that is unauthorized to be on the property. Trespassing and premises liability law is complicated, and often situational. Property owners are not required to protect trespassers who enter the property without proper permission, but they cannot willfully injure them either. If a property owner knows there are frequent trespassers on his property, he can be held liable for any injuries caused by unsafe conditions on the property if: the condition was created or maintained by the owner, the condition is likely to cause serious injury or death or if the owner failed to exercise reasonable care to notify trespassers of the dangerous conditions and risks involved.

The rules change when young children are the trespassers. In the case of a child wandering onto the property without proper authorization, the property owner still has a duty to ensure the property is safe. The reason for this exception is that children are often times naïve to dangers on property and can in fact by lured to investigate a dangerous condition such as an abandoned well or maybe a big piece of machinery. Such potential hazards are known as “attractive nuisances.” As such, a property owner has the duty to inspect the property to ensure there are no potentially unsafe conditions that may attract children.

A property owner may be liable for an injury to a trespassing child if they were aware of, or should have known, young children may likely trespass in the area of a dangerous condition on the property that involved an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to children.

Safety and Prevention

While the requirements may vary from state to state, periodic inspections tailored to the needs of the property can dramatically reduce the number of falls and premises liability incidents that occur. The inspections should be performed by a trained individual in hazard recognition.  Any identified hazards should be addressed immediately to help reduce exposure to invitees, trespassers and licensees. Management follow-up is vitally important to ensure the defects are corrected or the proper warnings are established in a timely manner. 

Remember, as an individual, you need to understand that no one can guarantee absolute safety.   Be aware of your surroundings and try to avoid dangerous situations and places at all costs.

Read the next article: What to Do When You Have an Accident on Someone Else’s Property 

Contact an attorney in your area.