Property owners are legally obligated to ensure the safety of their premises, preventing injuries or accidents. This legal framework imposes the responsibility on property owners to maintain secure conditions, safeguarding visitors, guests, and even trespassers from undue risks.

When property owners neglect their duty to uphold safety standards, individuals have the legal right to take them to court under premises liability laws. If a property owner's negligence results in injuries to a visitor, guest, or trespasser, the injured party has valid grounds to initiate a premises liability lawsuit. The lawsuit aims to secure compensation for their injuries and associated damages.

Premises Liability Under California Law

California Civil Code Section 1714(a) firmly holds individuals accountable for their intentional actions' outcomes and injuries resulting from their failure to exercise ordinary care or skill in managing their property or themselves. This means that regardless of intent if someone's actions cause harm or injury to another, they can be subject to legal responsibility for their failure to employ ordinary care or skill in averting that harm.

As the plaintiff, you need to make your case. You do so by proving the following elements:

  • The defendant's connection to the property — You have to show that the defendant was an owner, tenant, occupant, or someone in control of the property. This establishes their responsibility for the premises.
  • The defendant's negligence in how they used or maintained the property — This entails demonstrating their failure to exercise reasonable care in ensuring the property's safety.
  • You suffered harm due to the incident on the property — This harm encompasses physical injuries, emotional distress, medical expenses, and other related losses.
  • The defendant's negligence played a significant role in causing your harm — In simpler terms, there must be a clear link connecting the hazardous condition on the property to the injuries you endured.

Let us examine the key elements in detail.

  1. Potential Defendants

In premises liability cases, potential defendants can include various individuals or entities responsible for the property where the injury occurred. This can involve:

  • Homeowners, if the injury happens on someone's private residential property.
  • Business owners.
  • Retail centers.
  • Tenants or renters.
  • Parent companies.
  • Property management companies.
  • Restaurants or Stores.
  • Employees.

Property owners or possessors must uphold their duty to maintain the property safely, even when they hire independent contractors. If a contractor's negligence leads to an unsafe condition, the property owner remains responsible for the property's state.

Similarly, if an employee neglects their duty to address hazards or inform their employer about dangers on the property, the employer can be held accountable for the employee's negligence. California's respondeat superior laws dictate that the principal (employer) assumes legal responsibility for the agent's (employee's) negligence. Employers and businesses can be held vicariously liable for an employee's negligence within the scope of employment.

  1. Duty of Care

The "duty of care" expected from a property owner is firmly rooted in what a reasonable property owner would do under similar circumstances. When assessing whether the defendant breached this duty of care, a jury can weigh a variety of factors, including:

  • The property’s location —The unique location and features of the property play a role in determining the extent of the duty of care. For example, a property in a bustling commercial area could necessitate more stringent safety precautions than a secluded and rarely visited property.
  • Likelihood of similar entries — The possibility that someone could enter the property in a manner akin to the plaintiff's actions can impact the duty of care. If these entries are commonplace and foreseeable, the property owner could be held to a higher standard for ensuring safety.
  • Risk of injury — The probability of an injury occurring on the property is considered. If a recognized risk is associated with the property, the duty to address and minimize that risk becomes more pronounced.
  • Potential severity of injuries — Another consideration is the anticipated severity of possible injuries. A property owner could have an increased duty of care if the potential harm is grave or life-threatening.
  • Knowledge of hazardous conditions — A pivotal factor is whether the property owner was aware of, or should have been aware of, a dangerous situation. Neglecting or failing to address known dangers can serve as evidence of negligence.
  • Feasibility of risk reduction — The jury can evaluate how practical and burdensome it would be to reduce or prevent the risk. If it was reasonably possible for the property owner to take measures to avoid harm without undue hardship, their failure to do so may indicate negligence.
  • Degree of owner's control — The level of control the property owner exercised over the condition that led to the risk is also considered. Property owners with greater control over a hazardous situation could be held to a higher standard for addressing it.
  1. Premises

Premises liability accidents can occur across a wide array of property types:

  • Apartment complexes.
  • Private residences.
  • Office buildings.
  • Government property.
  • Public parks and recreational spaces.
  • Retail establishments and shopping.
  • Parking lots.

Premises Liability Claims

Premises liability claims cover a broad spectrum of accidents and injuries that can unfold on another person's property. Among the most prevalent premises liability claims are:

  1. Slip-and-Fall Accidents

Slip-and-fall accidents are a prevalent form of premises liability. They typically occur when an individual slips, trips, or takes a tumble while on another person's property due to unsafe conditions. These dangerous conditions encompass:

  • Wet or slippery surfaces — Examples include freshly cleaned floors, spilled liquids, or icy sidewalks.
  • Uneven or damaged flooring — Including torn carpets, loose floorboards, or fractured pavement.
  • Obstacles or debris — Objects left in walkways, cluttered areas, or tripping hazards.
  • Inadequate lighting — Dimly lit areas can impede hazard detection.
  • Lack of handrails or guardrails — Particularly on staircases or elevated areas.
  • Failure to warn — Property owners bear responsibility if they neglect to issue warnings about recognized hazards.
  1. Trip and Fall Accidents

Trip and fall incidents are a prevalent aspect of premises liability cases. These accidents occur when an individual stumbles over a peril or obstruction on someone else's property, leading to injuries. These incidents include various factors and scenarios, including:

  • Uneven surfaces.
  • Loose or torn carpeting.
  • Objects obstructing pathways or cluttered spaces.
  • Dimly lighting.
  • Missing or broken handrails.
  • Failure to warn.
  • Electrical cords, cables, or wires inadequately secured or concealed.
  • Accumulations of snow or ice, particularly in colder climates.
  • Irregular or damaged pavement.
  • Deficient maintenance of walkways, stairs, or communal areas.
  • Overcrowding and congestion.

Note: In certain instances, footwear or loose clothing could factor into trip-and-fall incidents.

Stair injuries form a distinct subset of trip and fall incidents, squarely focused on accidents on stairs or staircases. These stair-related accidents can be attributed to several factors and conditions, including:

  • Broken steps.
  • Wood decays or rots within steps or handrails.
  • Inadequately secured handrails.

Safeguarding a property's integrity entails multifaceted responsibilities, with particular emphasis on ensuring the safety of staircases. Property owners or occupants bear the onus of undertaking the following measures to certify that stairs are conducive to safe use:

  • Consistent and diligent inspection of stairs.
  • Repairing or replacing broken or compromised steps.
  • Proactive steps by property custodians to guarantee that stairs are secure.
  1. Amusement and Water Park Accidents

Waterpark and amusement park incidents fall within premises liability and occur in recreational settings. These incidents, which can result in visitor injuries, involve a variety of factors and situations, including:

  • Water slides and rides.
  • Safety harness or restraint failures.
  • Slippery surfaces.
  • Inadequate supervision.
  • Failure to warn.
  • Overcrowding.
  • Inadequate maintenance.
  • Failure to conduct safety inspections.
  • Food-related Illnesses.
  • Drowning incidents.
  • Lack of adequate first aid and emergency response.
  1. Elevator Accidents

In the unfortunate event of an elevator accident causing injury, it is possible to take legal action against those responsible for the incident. Typically, the responsibility for these accidents lies with the property owner. However, elevator accidents can also fall under product liability if the elevator's manufacturer or seller is found to have provided a faulty product.

Property owners who have elevators installed on their premises, including office buildings or apartment complexes, have a distinct duty to ensure the safe operation of these elevators. This responsibility involves two vital aspects:

  • Elevator repairs — Property owners must promptly address any issues or defects in the elevator system to guarantee its safe functioning.
  • Risk warnings — When known risks are associated with the elevator's operation, property owners should communicate these risks clearly to users, thereby mitigating potential hazards.
  1. Construction Site Accidents

Construction sites are rife with potential hazards. Rigorous safety regulations are firmly in place to curb workplace injuries. Yet, property owners shoulder a distinct duty of care towards all individuals on their property, which extends to construction sites. Property owners can find themselves legally liable for accidents not solely confined to the property's borders but also from unsafe conditions within the property itself.

Part and parcel of a property owner's obligations include the provision of warnings or the erection of barriers, all intended to prevent individuals from venturing into harm's way.

These accidents include the following:

  • Crane accidents — Untoward events entailing crane operations that could culminate in injuries to laborers or onlookers.
  • Ladder injuries — Instances of falls from ladders or mishaps involving defective ladder mechanisms.
  • Electric shock injuries — Occurrences tied to contact with live wires, electrical apparatus, or faulty wiring.
  • Scaffolding injuries — Mishaps tied to scaffolding, encompassing collapses, falls, or incidents traceable to substandard scaffolding construction.
  • Roofing accidents — Episodes unfolding during roofing endeavors, potentially implicating falls, slips, or equipment malfunctions.
  1. Animal Attacks

Injuries resulting from animal incidents often intersect with premises liability cases. This includes situations where unsafe property conditions contribute to animal-related injuries.

Additionally, a notable portion of injuries sustained on private property revolve around dog bites. However, the legal framework governing the majority of dog bite injury cases in California is specific. You can pursue civil action under Civil Code Section 3342.

While a homeowner's negligence in securing their dog on their property could be a consideration, personal injury claims for most dog bite cases typically adhere to the doctrine of "strict liability." This means that dog owners can be held responsible for injuries caused by their dogs, regardless of whether the owner demonstrated negligence. The critical element is whether the injured party was lawfully present at the location where the dog bite occurred.

  1. Accidents in Private Residences

Accidents within an individual’s residence are often overlooked, yet a multitude of mishaps can transpire within the home, including:

  • Burn injuries — Resulting from fires, hot surfaces, or scalding liquids.
  • Electric shock — Stemming from faulty wiring, electrical appliances, or insufficient safety measures.
  • Inhalation injuries — For example, smoke inhalation in fires or exposure to toxic fumes.
  • Chemical Injuries — Caused by mishandling or contact with hazardous substances.
  • Falling trees and limbs — Occurring when unstable trees or branches collapse.
  • Domestic Worker Injuries — Accidents involving injuries to household staff while on duty.
  • Deck and balcony Collapses — Structural failures leading to severe injuries.
  • Drowning — In swimming pools, bathtubs, or other bodies of water on the property.
  • Poisoning — Accidental ingestion of toxic substances.
  • Slips and falls — Arising from hazardous conditions like wet floors, cluttered areas, or tripping hazards.

Does a Property Owner Have a Duty to Warn of or Repair Dangerous Conditions?

Property owners have a clear-cut responsibility to address and resolve dangerous conditions on their premises or to issue appropriate warnings about these hazards. Their claim of ignorance regarding these conditions cannot absolve them of liability.

Courts consider various factors to establish whether a property owner knew or should have known of a hazardous condition, including:

  • Obviousness of the hazard — If it is glaringly apparent, it is reasonable to assume that the property owner should have been aware of it.
  • Complaints — Complaints from others or yourself concerning the dangerous condition are significant evidence.
  • Duration of the condition — The time a dangerous situation persisted can indicate whether the property owner had a reasonable window to rectify it.
  • Prior injuries — If previous injuries were linked to the same hazardous condition, it could imply that the property owner ought to have recognized the associated risks.
  • Mitigation efforts — Any attempts the property owner makes to alleviate the hazard are considered.

As a general rule, property owners are not typically held liable for damages stemming from a "minor, trivial, or insignificant defect" on their property. The categorization of a defect as minor or significant could depend on the nature of the fault and the resultant injuries.

The specific types of dangerous conditions for which a property owner is accountable can fluctuate depending on the property's type. When a property owner cannot promptly rectify a hazardous situation, a reasonable property owner would typically issue a warning or notice regarding the hazard. The nature of the warning is based on the characteristics of the dangerous condition and the potential risk to individuals.

Damages Recoverable in a Premises Liability Case

In a premises liability lawsuit, pursuing compensatory damages is a pivotal component of seeking justice and fair reparation for the injuries and hardships from the accident. Compensatory damages fall into two primary categories:

  1. Economic Damages

Economic damages cater to losses whose dollar value is apparent. These losses include the following:

  • Medical bills include the cost of future treatment.
  • Lost wages.
  • Property damage.
  • Lost earning capacity.
  1. Noneconomic Damages

Non-economic damages compensate individuals for losses without an immediately identifiable dollar value. These losses include:

  • Disfigurement.
  • Scaring.
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Loss of a limb.

Punitive Damages

While it is possible to pursue punitive damages, they are relatively infrequent and typically depend on specific circumstances that necessitate strict proof. The pursuit of punitive damages requires the demonstration of one or more of the following factors:

  1. The Defendant's Recklessness and Catastrophic Injuries or Wrongful Death

You must establish that the defendant's conduct or omissions transcended mere negligence and escalated to recklessness or deliberate misconduct. Furthermore, it should be apparent that the defendant's actions resulted in severe injuries or, in more grievous cases, wrongful death.

Punitive damages are sought in situations characterized by egregious misconduct leading to catastrophic consequences.

  1. Intentional Destruction of Evidence:

Punitive damages are justifiable if you can substantiate that the defendant willfully destroyed or tampered with evidence crucial to establishing liability or the extent of harm.

This misconduct can be construed as an effort to obstruct the investigation or legal proceedings. It could result in punitive damages as a punitive measure against such reprehensible behavior.

  1. Intentional Causation of the Accident or Injury

In select instances, punitive damages could be considered if you can successfully prove that the defendant:

  • Deliberately caused the accident or injury.
  • Acted with malice or a deliberate intent to inflict harm.

This entails a more strict burden of proof. You must show that the defendant harbored a conscious intent to inflict harm beyond mere negligence.

Homeowner's Insurance

Homeowner's insurance policies cover a range of bodily injuries on the property, usually up to the policy limits. However, these policies have explicit exclusions defining which accidents or injuries will not be covered. Here are some noteworthy exclusions to keep in mind:

  • Dog bite injuries for certain dog breeds — Certain policies exclude coverage for injuries caused by specific high-risk or dangerous dog breeds.
  • Intentional injuries — Deliberate or intentional harm typically falls outside the coverage, as homeowner's insurance is primarily designed for accidental injuries.
  • Damages from neglect — Injuries resulting from homeowner neglect, failure to maintain the property, or failure to address known hazards are not covered.
  • Injuries due to poor workmanship — Faulty construction or repairs carried out by the homeowner are usually not covered.
  • Injuries caused by defective maintenance or repair — Injuries arising from improper or negligent maintenance or repair work may not be covered.
  • Trampoline injuries —Some policies exclude coverage for injuries associated with trampolines due to their inherent risks.

Additionally, homeowner's insurance policies often impose specific requirements and conditions on policyholders. These involve minimizing damages, promptly reporting accidents or injuries to the insurance company, and cooperating throughout the claims process.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

Rely on our expertise at the Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney if you are considering pursuing a premises liability suit. We will work to ensure you secure fair compensation for your losses. Call us at 424-231-2013 for a free case evaluation.