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Premises Liability

It is the duty of a property owner or occupier to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition. If there is a non-obvious danger, he should warn guests and visitors about it.

When a property owner or occupier is negligent in keeping the premises reasonably safe, this can cause visitors to suffer from injuries such as:

  • Slip and falls (due to spills, loose carpeting, uneven floors, or missing railings on stairs);
  • Food poisoning;
  • Drownings (often happen in water parks and amusement parks if appropriate precautions are not taken);
  • Dog bites;
  • Elevator injuries;
  • Home accidents (e.g., burns or deck and balcony collapses);
  • Electrocutions (often happen in construction site accidents).

Accidents can also occur due to the property owner or occupier’s failure to fix dangerous conditions or warn visitors about them. The property owner can’t escape liability by claiming that he didn’t know about the dangerous conditions if he has fallen below the standard of care of a reasonable owner/occupier in his position.

Moreover, a property owner or occupier can hire an employee or an independent contractor to maintain the property or fix a hazard. However, the property owner/occupier is still responsible for the property’s condition. Therefore, property owners or occupiers cannot delegate away the duty to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. Generally, the actions of the employee or independent contractors hired for maintenance and/or repairs of the property bind the property owner or possessor unless the independent contractor’s or employee’s own negligence is so grave and independent that it cannot be traced back to the owner/occupier.

A guest or visitor who is injured because of the property owner or occupier’s negligence may claim compensation for medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, and pain and suffering.

For an owner or occupier’s premises liability to arise under California law, the following conditions must be satisfied:

  1. The defendant owned, leased, occupied, or controlled the property;
  2. The defendant breached his “duty of care” in the use or maintenance of the property;
  3. The visitor was harmed, and
  4. The defendant’s breach of their “duty of care” was a substantial factor in causing your harm.

Therefore, it is vital to establish that:

  • The property owner or occupier was negligent. For a property owner or occupier to be deemed negligent, he should fall below the standard of care of a reasonable property owner regarding the management of the property. Suppose the property owner or occupier displayed the standard of care a reasonable property owner would, but an accident nevertheless happened. In that case, the property owner or occupier is not liable for the injury.
  • The visitor must be injured. Since general principles of personal injury law require the realization of actual harm to request compensation, the visitor must be injured for liability to arise. A mere risk of injury is not enough to request compensation if the risk is not realized in actual harm.
  • Suppose there is another factor contributing to harm to come about other than the property owner or occupier’s negligent acts, including the visitor’s own negligence. In that case, the defendant’s liability won’t arise unless his negligence is a substantial factor in causing the harm.
  • The point above might also result in absolving the property owner or occupier from liability if, for example, the property owner did his best to maintain an elevator, but the substantial factor in causing the harm is an invisible and inherent defect in production. Here, the appropriate cause of action is to go to the manufacturer’s strict liability under product liability.
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    Frequently Asked Questions

    The scope of the concept of property owner or occupier is very wide, and it is primarily concerned with control over the property. Any individual or company who owns, leases, occupies, or controls ("possesses") the property can potentially be liable under premises liability, depending on the circumstances. Therefore, this definition can include homeowners/landlords, business owners and parent companies, tenants/renters, property management companies, and/or employees of one of these.

    Most property owners/occupiers, especially commercial property owners, carry premises liability insurance. Homeowners can also carry premises liability insurance (though the scope and limits of the policy are usually very restricted compared to commercial ones, and most of the common types of accidents or injuries can be excluded). If the property owner/occupier carries insurance for injuries sustained on his premises, the process of claiming compensation is more straightforward. The injured visitor of his attorney can, with the proof of the injuries, bring a claim against the insurance company of the property owner/occupier under his premises liability policy. If the property owner/occupier does not carry an insurance policy for injuries sustained on his premises, then the injured visitor is left with the option to sue the property owner/occupier directly.
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