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 include 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.
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How can you prove Premises Liability?
Successfully proving premises liability involves demonstrating negligence or failure to uphold a duty of care. This process is governed by specific legal principles, which can differ depending on the classification of the individual on the property – whether they are an invitee, licensee, or trespasser, as detailed in Virginia Code.
An individual attains invitee status when they access premises open to the public for its intended purpose. The possessor of the property is obligated to exercise ordinary care in maintaining the premises reasonably for the well-being of invitees.
A licensee, as described, is someone who enters a property for personal convenience or gain with the explicit or implicit consent of the proprietor. Licensees include social visitors, outdoor enthusiasts, travelers encountering railroad crossings, and a diverse array of other scenarios.
In general terms, property owners bear no obligation to ensure the safety of trespassers. This principle aligns with the rationale that property owners are not mandated by law to uphold the safety of individuals who lack permission to be on their property.
What Is A Premises Liability Attorney?
Premises liability law governs cases arising from injuries on property, establishing the duty of care that property owners owe to visitors. When a property owner fails to uphold their duty of care to maintain a safe environment, they could be held liable for any accidents that occur, including the injuries caused.
Their role includes a comprehensive examination of the incident, meticulous evidence gathering, negotiation with insurance entities, and, when necessary, proficient representation in legal proceedings.
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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 that 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 walking 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 that 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 pools 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.
- Security lapses resulting in accidents—Inadequate building security is generally more of an issue in office buildings, hotels, 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.
- Hazards associated with defective stairways—Stairways pose dangers when handrails are broken or insecure, steps are damaged, or spills, ice, and debris are not promptly addressed.
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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.
Is Premises Liability the Same as Negligence?
In premises liability cases, negligence is often a key component in building a strong case on your behalf. Property owners have a duty of care to maintain a safe environment for visitors, and if they fail to uphold this duty and someone is injured as a result, it is considered a form of negligence in premises liability cases.
The property owner’s negligence may involve actions or omissions such as failing to address known hazards, not conducting regular maintenance, or not providing adequate warnings about potential dangers on the property.
Premises Liability Insurance vs Personal Liability Insurance
Premises Liability Insurance and Personal Liability Insurance are distinct types of coverage, each addressing different scenarios of liability and protection.
Premises Liability Insurance specifically covers incidents that occur due to hazardous conditions on a property. This type of insurance is typically held by property owners or managers and is designed to protect them from claims arising due to injuries sustained by others on their property. For example, if you were to suffer an injury from a slip and fall incident in a supermarket, the claim would fall under premises liability. This is because the injury resulted from the supermarket’s failure to maintain a safe environment, such as not addressing a wet floor or a broken aisle.
On the other hand, Personal Liability Insurance relates to the actions or negligence of an individual, regardless of where the incident occurs. This form of insurance is generally part of homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policies and provides coverage if the policyholder or a covered member of their household causes bodily injury or property damage to others. For instance, if a homeowner’s dog bites a neighbor, or if the homeowner accidentally damages someone else’s property, personal liability insurance would come into play.
While premises liability insurance is concerned with the conditions of a physical location and the responsibilities of those who manage or own that space, personal liability insurance is focused on the actions of individuals and offers protection against claims for damages they may inadvertently cause to others.
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. We have offices conveniently located in your neighborhood, whether you are in Richmond, Petersburg, Chesterfield, or Mechanicsville. Contact the knowledgeable attorneys at Tronfeld West & Durrett.