Sometimes you slip, fall and get hurt, and it’s no one’s fault. Accidents happen. But that doesn’t mean accidents are always inevitable, or that you have no recourse or way to pursue compensation for your injuries.
Under a legal theory known as premises liability, property owners have certain duties to repair or warn of safety hazards, so that people who come onto their property are not injured in foreseeable accidents. When a property owner breaches that duty, and someone is injured as a result, the injured can hold the property owner liable for their damages. These damages can include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
A common scenario in a premises liability case is a slip-and-fall accident at a grocery store or restaurant. If a customer slips on a wet floor at a grocery store and is injured, the injured party may argue that the store owner breached a duty to avoid the risk of the accident, and should therefore be held liable for the injured party’s damages.
The legal issues in premises liability cases can be very complicated, and the outcome can vary greatly depending on facts such as the legal status of the person visiting the property. Connecticut law recognizes three types of visitors: invitees, licensees and trespassers. A property owner owes a different level of duty to each.
The highest level of duty goes to an invitee. This is a member of the public who is invited to the property for the mutual benefit of the owner and the invitee. For instance, a supermarket invites the public to come to the store as customers. This benefits the customers, who can purchase food, and the store, which can make money from the sale. In such a case, the property owner has a heightened duty to address safety hazards, such as spills or unsecured shelving.
A property owner owes somewhat less of a duty toward licensees. These are people who have permission to be on the property, but aren’t necessarily invited as members of the public. For instance, a neighbor who has permission to fish in the pond on your property while you are not there may be considered a licensee. Property owners have a duty to warn licensees of dangerous hazards they know about, but the licensee is considered to have taken on some of the risks involved.
Property owners don’t owe the same kind of duty to warn trespassers of hazards, but they can’t intentionally harm trespassers or set traps for them. In some cases, property owners have a heightened duty toward children, if they know children are likely to trespass on their property. For instance, the owner of a swimming pool should put up a fence, especially if there is a school nearby.
Premises liability cases can be very complex, but they can also be important ways to hold property owners accountable when they fail to protect people from dangerous conditions. They can also be crucial in helping the injured and their families cope with the aftermath of a preventable accident.