What is Premise Liability?
When an accident with injuries occurs on the property of another person or entity, there is the potential for a premise liability claim. Property owners are legally responsible for any injuries sustained on their property as a result of an unsafe condition, so long as that condition was known or should have reasonably been known. Premise liability exists in almost every type of structure or open space, however, the most common locations of a premise liability accident in Virginia includes businesses, parking lots, construction sites and private homes. One important factor regarding premise liability claims is who owns the property, whether it is a governmental entity, a private property owner or a business owner.
Property Owners Duty of Care
Liability in a premise liability accident is generally determined by establishing the owner’s duty of care. Once the duty of care is established, it must be shown that the property owner breached that duty of care, and that, because of that breach, a person was injured. While some states require property owners to exercise reasonable care regarding the maintenance and upkeep of their property with respect to any person who might enter the property, other states—including Virginia—apply rules which may limit the landowner’s duty of care depending on the visitor’s status:
- Invitees are those who have expressed or implied permission from the owner of the property to enter. An invitee is someone who is visiting the property pursuant to the invitation from the property owner. For example, a customer in a store is considered an invitee.
- Licensees are those who have expressed or implied permission from the owner to enter the property, but who are on the property for their own purposes, such as salespersons. A social guest at someone’s home is generally considered a licensee.
- Trespassers are those who have no authorization to be on the property.
Typically, the highest duty of care is owed to invitees, followed by licensees. Owners usually owe no duty of care to trespassers, unless the trespasser is a child. In this case, owners must exercise reasonable care to avoid harm to children caused by such things as swimming pools.
Types of Premise Liability Cases
As noted, premise liability can apply to public or private properties, including residences, office buildings, restaurants, theaters, shopping malls, grocery stores, hotels, motels, nursing homes, entertainment venues, nightclubs, sports arenas, hospitals, parking structures, apartment complexes and more. Some of the more common types of premise liability accidents include:
- Slip and fall accidents—Slip and fall accidents are possibly the most common type of premise liability claims as well as the most straightforward type. Conditions which can lead to a slip and fall accident include: uneven stair treads, poor lighting, lack of handrails, wet or slippery floors due to spills or accumulation of ice and snow, unsecured rugs, torn carpeting, uneven thresholds, loose or broken flooring, oil spills in parking lots sidewalks or steps or items in the walk path. Slip and fall accidents can result in serious injuries which lead to an inability to return to work for a significant length of time as well as an overwhelming level of medical expenses.
- Dog bites—Like slip and fall accidents, dog bites can result in serious injury. Virginia is a “one bite” state, as well as a “contributory negligence” state. This means that while the state holds a dog owner legally liable for a dog bite if the bite was the result of negligence or a violation of animal control laws, the owner is held liable only if he or she knew or should have known the dog might act aggressively. Further, the person who was bitten by the dog must be able to show he or she did nothing which contributed to being bitten by the dog—i.e., the person did not tease or otherwise antagonize the dog.
- Swimming pool accidents—Swimming pool accidents usually involve children and an unsecured, unsupervised swimming pool. As with most states, Virginia swimming pool owners can be held liable for an accident if negligent supervision, maintenance or operation of a swimming pool causes the injury or death of another person. Public pool owners are responsible for hiring, training and supervising lifeguards and other staff, pool and park owners are responsible for maintaining pools, diving boards, decks, drains, ladders and fences and homeowners are responsible for properly securing their pool from unsupervised users, usually by surrounding the pool with a fence and a locking gate.
- Accidents due to inadequate maintenance—Many premise liability accidents are the result of an unsafe condition due to lack of maintenance. Lack of maintenance can be in the form of spills or fallen merchandise, cluttered aisles, overgrown trees or bushes or uneven or broken steps, stairs or sidewalks. Property owners are required to perform routine maintenance on their property to avoid any hazards which could result in an accident and subsequent injuries.
- Inadequate building security which leads to injury or assault—Inadequate building security is generally more of an issue in office buildings, hotels and motels or apartment buildings. Owners of such businesses have a duty to reasonably secure access to the building. This could come in the form of having secure locks on all the doors or having doormen or security guards who keep watch over the property and the tenants or guests.
Premises Liability Limitations in Virginia
The state of Virginia follows contributory negligence laws regarding premises liability claims. This means that a plaintiff who bears any responsibility for the accident may be barred from recovering for his or her injuries. Most other states have shifted away from contributory negligence laws, moving to comparative negligence laws which simply decrease a plaintiff’s settlement amount by his or her percentage of fault.
How Tronfeld West & Durrett Can Handle Your Premise Liability Claim
When you have been injured on another person’s property, you may be left with serious injuries, unsure of what to do or where to turn. The Tronfeld West & Durrett attorneys have handled many premises liability claims for their clients, helping those clients get the settlement they need and deserve. You can speak to one of our highly experienced attorneys to determine the course of action you need to take in order to obtain reimbursement for your injuries and lost wages. Contact the knowledgeable attorneys at Tronfeld West & Durrett.