Premises Liability: One Accident Could Cost You Your Business, Part 1

Accidents will happen, but in today’s litigious society, when they involve premises liability, they can come at more of a cost than ever. Don’t let it cost you your business.

Premises liability involves the breach of duty of care that is owed by an owner or occupier of property to protect invitees from dangerous conditions and defects on a property. Common incidents that can lead to premises liability claims can range from a slip and fall on a public sidewalk to a slip and fall on the way into or out of a home office that generates foot traffic, such part of a home that has been set up to serve as an accounting office or hair salon. Regardless of the type of property or injury involved, property owners are liable for all injuries incurred due to hazards associated with their property, whether it is a home, a business, or a business operated from home.

The legal theory behind premises liability is that property owners have a duty to make sure that anyone, whether invited or not, is reasonably safe while on the property. If a property owner does not make the property reasonably safe and someone is injured while there, then he or she can be held liable. This may be a viewed as a combination of the property owner’s fault as well as that of the injured person(s), and it can be a matter of determining the amount of liability for each party.

We’ve all heard of someone slipping on a public sidewalk and bringing a lawsuit for injuries suffered. For example, a lawsuit may be brought if someone is walking on a sidewalk and trips over an uneven section or crack and was injured as a result. In that event, a claim might be made against the town, which owns and maintains the sidewalk.  But what if someone were walking on  a stretch of public sidewalk adjacent to a business and slipped from a patch of snow that had not be cleared away? Who would be responsible? Here, premises liability would point to the business owner for not keeping a pathway directly outside its premises free from debris that could cause harm to either guests or passersby.

The principle of duty of care owed by an owner of a property to protect invitees and visitors also applies to those who aren’t invited. For example, if a property owner were aware of a trespasser, but didn’t warn him or her of a hazard on the property, such as a guard dog indicated by a sign, then the property owner could be held accountable if injuries were sustained as a result of any physical encounter.

In short, the duty of care in premises liability can be breached if:

1. The property owner is aware that dangerous conditions located on the property have caused or are likely to cause injury to another party.

2. It is believed that the invitee had no awareness or could not have been aware of any danger that may have led to an injury.

3. The property owner has not indicated or corrected the hazard so that any danger may be avoided.

In addition to slip-and-fall accident and animal bites, some of the more common types of premises liability cases stem from inadequate security, roadway and sidewalk defects, such as potholes, cracks or heaved sections, falling objects, unmarked excavations or holes, and poor lighting.

In the second part of this article, we will discuss some of the ways a property owner can limit the risk of premises liability litigation.

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