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What is a Premises Liability Case?

When you are hurt on someone else’s property, you probably know that you can consider filing a premises liability claim to get compensation for your resulting damages. But what exactly is a premises liability case from a legal viewpoint? What goes into a premises liability case to make it legally valid and capable of successfully recovering damages from the liable property owner?

In the typical premises liability case, generally there need to be four prerequisites met for it to be legally sound: notice, duty, breach, and damages. However, there are exceptions depending on the facts.

1 – Notice of the Hazard or Lack Thereof

The property owner/possessor/contractor needs to have some sort of notice about the hazard that caused your accident before they can be assigned liability. In other words, there must be some foreseeability of an unreasonable risk due to the type of knowledge they had about the hazard on their property.

An owner/possessor/contractor has “actual knowledge” of a hazard if it can be confirmed that they knew about it. For example, you tripped over lifted carpeting in a retail store, and the store manager has sent emails to corporate about getting the lifted carpeting replaced. The emails establish that the manager had actual knowledge of the issue yet did nothing to protect shoppers from the danger.

A property owner has “constructive knowledge” of a hazard if it can be reasonably presumed that they knew about it or should have known about it. For example, you tripped over a power cable on the floor right inside a store’s front door. Even if the store owner never acknowledges the power cable, constructive knowledge definitions can be used to safely assume the owner should have reasonably known about the cable and the danger it was creating.

2 – Duty Owed to People on the Property

Property owners have different duty-of-care levels owed to different parties on their property:

  • Invitee: The highest duty to make the property safe or warn someone of a hazard is owed to invitees. An invitee is someone who has been expressly invited onto the property, or who has entered the property when it was opened to the public and for the benefit of both parties, such as a shopper who enters a retail store to make a purchase.
  • Licensee: A moderate duty of care is owed to licensees, who are people who enter the property with permission but for their own benefit. The property owner must have actual knowledge of the licensee being there, too. An example of a licensee is a salesperson who has been given permission to enter someone’s home to make a sale. If that salesperson is injured before getting to the property owner’s door and making their presence known, then they are technically a trespasser.
  • Trespasser: The least duty of care is owed to trespassers, who are people who are on a piece of land or in a property without any authorization to be there. Trespassers can still make a premises liability claim against the property owner, but there must usually be evidence of gross negligence on behalf of the property owner for a trespasser’s claim to stand in court.

3 – Breach of the Duty of Care

A property owner’s duty of care owed to someone on their property can be as simple as warning them about the hazard until it is handled. The better option is to take the right steps to eliminate the hazard as soon as possible and make the property safe again. If no reasonable steps are made to fix the hazard and/or warn people of it, then the property owner has breached the duty of care owed to others. However, if there is another possessor/contractor/party involved with control over such unsafe conditions, they would also have a duty to make the property/conditions/workplace safe and warn foreseeable persons regarding such unsafe conditions.

4 – Damages Caused by the Accident

A hazard on someone’s property needs to cause an accident that causes injuries that lead to actual damages. That is to say, if someone falls in a retail store due to a foreseeable danger, but they suffer no injury that requires medical attention or creates a disability, then they would likely not have a legitimate claim. However, there are exceptional conditions that create an exception to this rule.

Changing Factors in Premises Liability Claims

It is important to know that any of the four previous factors and the obligations they create can change depending on unique factors in a premises liability case. For example, landowners, managers, lessors, possessors of the property, and people with general control of the area all have different duties of care owed to different parties.

The type of hazard that led to an accident and injury also makes a difference in how the four factors can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, negligent security, dangerous on-site activities, strict liability conditions, and attractive nuisances that attract children into dangerous situations (such as pools or open firepits) are all different premises liability hazards that need different forms of evaluation to establish liability and damages.

Premises Liability Case Help in San Antonio

Did you get hurt while on someone else’s property in San Antonio? Maloney Law Group, P.L.L.C. is here to help you make sense of your claim, starting with determining if it has legal validity. Call (210) 361-2997 to arrange your complimentary consultation with our team of premises liability attorneys.