When you suffer an injury on another person’s property, you may initially think that there is no one to blame but yourself. After all, no one directly caused the accident, right?
Even if the property owner didn’t purposefully hurt you, they might be liable for failing to prevent the dangerous condition that led to your accident. Property owners — including business owners and homeowners — have a duty of care to reasonably protect visitors from hazards.
Knowing the role of property owners in preventing accidents and injuries can help you determine whether a property owner is liable for your accident.
Property Owners Have an “Ordinary Duty of Care” to Visitors
When someone directly or indirectly invites you to their property, or you enter their property lawfully for your own benefit, they owe you an “ordinary duty of care.” In general terms, this is a standard of care a reasonable person would exhibit under similar circumstances. It requires property owners to take the proper measures to prevent harm to visitors.
Property owners can’t always predict when accidents will occur on their properties, especially if extraneous circumstances are at play. But the ordinary duty of care principle requires property owners to be reasonably aware of hazards and take measures to mitigate them before allowing other people to enter their premises.
What Steps Should Property Owners Take to Prevent Accidents?
Exercising an “ordinary duty of care” involves property owners taking several measures to maintain safe premises for visitors. Keep in mind that the word “reasonable” applies to all of these steps. Property owners should take reasonable measures to remove and mitigate hazards — they don’t necessarily need to go above and beyond.
Inspecting and Maintaining the Property
If you break your ankle by stepping into a large hole in a person’s yard, they may claim that they didn’t know the hole was there, so how could they have prevented the accident? However, reasonable care includes regularly inspecting the property to identify such hazards.
Homeowners should have a general understanding of the condition of all areas of their properties where visitors may spend time. The same goes for business owners with customers.
A property doesn’t need to be in flawless condition, but it should be free of obvious hazards.
Repairing Dangerous Conditions
Repairing hazardous and dangerous conditions is a crucial step property owners should take to exercise an ordinary duty of care. Such dangerous conditions could include:
- Loose carpeting
- Uncovered cables
- Broken railings
- Malfunctioning elevators
- Electrical issues
- Deteriorating stairs or decking
When a property owner knows about these conditions yet fails to fix them, they become liable for accidents that occur. Their liability increases when the hazard has already caused past injuries or visitors have complained about the condition previously.
Implementing Reasonable Security Measures
Certain types of property owners are also responsible for implementing reasonable security measures. The level of security they should provide depends on:
- The frequency of past crimes in the area
- The security measures similar businesses implement
- The overall safety of the area
For example, consumers typically expect banks to have security cameras and detailed protocols to protect patrons during robberies. Meanwhile, not every homeowner has security cameras, but visitors may expect them in high-crime areas.
When crimes occur in areas where victims would expect security measures to be present, they may hold the property owner liable.
Warning of Unsafe Conditions They Cannot Immediately Mitigate
Some dangerous conditions take time to fix, but property owners are at least liable for warning visitors of those conditions if they can’t immediately mitigate them.
For example, businesses often place “wet floor” signs next to recently mopped floors to warn visitors of the potential slipping hazard. Meanwhile, pool owners usually place signage about the rules of the pool and potential hazards should visitors break those rules.
For a warning sign to adequately remove a property owner’s liability, it should be direct and specific. A visitor should be able to read the sign and immediately understand the hazards present. For instance, a property owner placing a “wet floor” sign at the entrance to a store likely won’t remove their liability for a slip-and-fall accident in the back of the building.
When Is a Property Owner Not Liable for Injuries?
Property owners aren’t always responsible for preventing accidents and injuries — the law has to draw the line somewhere. A few instances in which the owner may not be responsible include the following:
The Victim Was Trespassing
Homeowners and business owners owe the highest duty of care to the people they invite to their property. They usually are not liable for accidents that happen when people are trespassing.
Children are an exception to this rule. Property owners should take reasonable measures to protect children from accidents, even when children wander onto the property without permission.
The Hazard Just Appeared
The victim in a premise liability case needs to prove that the property owner was aware of or should have been aware of a hazard. If the hazard just appeared and the property owner did not have time to learn about it, they likely won’t be liable.
For example, if a customer in a grocery store drops a carton of milk and another customer immediately slips on the puddle, the store owner couldn’t have taken any measures to prevent the accident and likely was not liable.
The Victim Ignored Warning Signs
If an injured person ignored signs warning of a potential danger, they probably won’t succeed in holding the property owner liable. For instance, a child who is running on a pool deck and slips on a puddle ignored the “no running” signs posted around the pool, and the pool owner isn’t responsible for their injuries.
Was a Property Owner Liable For Your Injury?
When property owners fail to exercise reasonable care for preventing accidents and injuries, the victims can seek compensation through premises liability claims or lawsuits. If you need help determining liability in your case, call the premises liability lawyers at Khalil Law Group today at 714-617-7870 for a free consultation in Newport Beach, CA.