Legal Duty of Property Owners to Protect their Visitors from Harm

Jun 09

The US National Safety Council (NSC) Injury Facts records more than 8 million slip and fall accidents every year, making this type of accident one of the top causes of serious injuries in the U.S. and the most frequent type of accident that results in lawsuits (premises liability lawsuit).

Slip and fall accidents can be caused by wet or icy surfaces, moss-filled floors, uneven floors or walkways (especially those that are not well illuminated), unstable surfaces, exposed wires, absences of railings or guardrails, uncovered metal or wooden pegs, faulty stairs, unmarked obstacles, and so forth. While this type of accident can happen to anyone, those who are most seriously affected and hurt are people 55 years old and above. Injuries can include a fractured wrist or elbow, knee injury, torn muscle and ligament, back pain and fractured hip.

A slip and fall accident can happen not only in public places, such as hospitals, churches, malls, restaurants and near swimming pools, but also in private residences where one goes to as a visitor (as an invitee, a licensee or a trespasser, who is an unwelcome visitor, of course).

Identifying an injured visitor’s status on the premise or reason why he/she entered into another’s land entails major legal significance as it will determine a property owner’s extent of responsibility for the safety and well-being of his/her visitor, as well as the extent of a visitor’s rights in seeking compensation. And where protection from harm is the issue, invitees are afforded the highest level.

An invitee refers to a person who has received (direct or implied) invitation from the property owner to come onto his/her property to further the owner’s purposes. Persons directly invited to special family gatherings, such as anniversaries, or those entering a shop to transact business with the store owner, are considered invitees.

Invitees are types of guests who naturally assume that the place they enter onto is totally safe; thus, in the event of an accident, which results to an invitee’s injury, the property owner (or anyone directly responsible for the maintenance of the place) can be held totally responsible.

A licensee is another type of guest who has been granted permission to be on the owner’s property; his/her presence there, though, is personal, as it is for his/her own purpose or amusement. Family friends and party guests (and those to whom an open invitation to visit has been extended) fit this visitor description.

Property owners are also obligated by law to ensure the total safety of licensees, unlike in the case of trespassers, towards whom owners do not owe the responsibility of giving warnings about the dangers naturally occurring on the premises (unless the owner becomes aware of a trespasser’s presence).

Property owners or those responsible in the maintenance or upkeep of a place, but who negligently fail to perform their duty, can be held accountable under the premises liability laws, in the event of an injury.

As explained by the law firm Crowe & Mulvey, LLP, there are a number of different ways in which individuals may be put in danger of suffering a serious injury by unsafe premises, resulting in a premises liability claim. Some of the most common reasons people seek legal help for premises liability claims include: dog bites, slip and fall, elevator and escalator injuries, porch collapse, stair collapse, fires, lead paint poisoning, mercury poisoning or swimming pool injuries. As a guest at someone else’s home, or a patron of a business, you have a right to expect that a certain level of safety will be provided for you.

 

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