Premises liability claims are some of the most common accident cases. Factually, these claims are all different, but the general principles and evaluation looks the same. When most people hear the term premises liability claim, they likely think of slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall cases. Although these are likely some of the most common premises liability cases, this area of law covers a much broader spectrum than that. Other common types of premises liability cases include building or structure collapse, falling merchandise, swimming pool accidents, inadequate maintenance, and inadequate security to name a few.
In Alabama, no matter what type of premises accident occurs, the initial inquiry into whether a valid premises liability claim exists must start with determining the injured person’s status on the property. The reason this is so important is that the duty that the landowner owes to the person that comes onto their premises depends on the visitor’s status. Everyone on another’s property is deemed to either be a business invitee, licensee, or trespasser. The level of care a landowner owes to those on his property is based on the status of the visitor.
The most obvious example of a business invitee is someone going onto the property of another to conduct some type of business transaction such as a customer at a store or restaurant. Landowners owe the highest duty of care to business invitees. They are required to exercise due care to keep the property in a safe condition and to warn invitees of any danger the owner knows or should have known about. Intuitively, those who invite others onto their property for financial gain owe those visitors a high duty of care to ensure their safety. This firm has handled countless premises liability cases involving slip and fall, trip and fall, falling merchandise, structure collapse and countless other variations of accidents that occurred to business invitees.
The next highest duty of care is owed to licensees. A licensee is one who comes onto a property as a guest with either the knowledge or implied permission of the property owner. This typically takes the form of a person visiting another’s home, or when one visits a business for a non-business purpose. The person responsible for maintaining the property in these situations must not intentionally injure the licensee, and must repair or warn against any known danger. With licensees, the property owner has to correct or warn about known dangers, whereas with invitees, the property owner must actively check for dangers. Licensee premises liability cases often involve building or structure collapses at residential homes and apartment complexes.
The final category – trespassers – is owed the lowest threshold of care. Trespassers are people on the property of another without the permission or knowledge of the owner. Landowners simply have a duty not to intentionally injure an adult trespasser. However, one situation where a landowner can be held liable for injuries to a trespasser is when the landowner lays a trap intending to harm a trespasser. Another situation where a landowner may be held liable to a trespasser is if the trespasser is a child that is somehow attracted or lured onto the property. The most common example of this is a landowner being held liable for failing to protect children from falling into an uncovered pool. If someone has a pool, dangerous machinery, or other hazardous items on the property, it is important to take reasonable steps to ensure children are protected from those dangers.
After determining what the visitor’s status was on the property, it is important to determine whether the relevant standard of care was violated. This inquiry is somewhat subjective depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. However, one of the most effective ways to determine whether the landowner violated the standard of care is to identify any codes or standards that may apply. Often times there are building codes or safety standards that apply.
Standards and codes that may offer guidance include Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM or ASTM International) standards, local building codes, American with Disability Act (ADA) Codes and many others. If any code or standard on point is violated, you have a strong argument that the landowner failed to meet the standard of care for invitee and licensee cases. In cases with serious damages, it is also good practice to hire an expert in the given area to explain why the code or standard is applicable and further, how the landowner’s failure to adhere to that standard created a hazard.
Premises liability cases may conjure ideas of minor slip-and-fall accidents. However, these claims can be large and the litigation hard fought depending on the facts and circumstances. As with any personal injury claim, it pays to put in work investigating the accident thoroughly and researching the applicable laws, codes and standards. If you need more information on the subject of Premises Liability, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
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