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Premises Liability and Understanding Property Owners’ Legal Duty to Prevent Injury

Property Owners’ Legal Duty to Prevent Injury
When someone owns property that person has what’s called a legal duty to prevent injury. In many instances it’s referred to simply as liability. What that means is a property owner, whether it’s a homeowner or a business owner, is expected to take reasonable precautions to make sure people on his or her property do not incur an accident or get injured in ways that could have been prevented. If someone is injured, and the property owner could be described as at fault, then the injured party can sue for damages.

An Example of Property Owners’ Legal Duty to Prevent Injury
Perhaps the simplest example of property owners’ legal duty is in the form of the “slip and fall” lawsuit. A customer comes to a supermarket, and while walking slips in a puddle of water and falls. The question that has to be determined at this point is whether or not the owner of that property is at fault for what happened.

Let’s say, for this example, that the puddle was reported to a manager, and it was simply left without being marked in any way. By not warning customers or attempting to clean up the puddle the property owner left a hazard that could reasonably lead to injury, and in this instance could be held accountable for what happens. On the other hand, if there was a “caution: wet floor” sign at either end of the aisle, and the customer stepped around or ignored those signs then the property owner may not be at fault, as the customer was warned about the situation, and chose to ignore the warnings.

The Key Word is “Reasonable”
One of the oft-argued parts of this law is whether or not the actions taken are reasonable. Say that someone had an old well on his or her property, and the individual put a plywood board over the well. The property owner informs guests and other residents about the well, and posts signs telling people to stay away from it. Most people would consider these actions reasonable, since the property owner has taken precautions to make sure everyone knows about the danger, and that there is something blocking people from falling down the well.

It would, undoubtedly, be safer to fill in the well entirely in order to make sure there is no more threat. However, such a cost is often prohibitive and may represent an unreasonable burden on the property owner. That’s how these situations have to be judged; are the actions the property owner took reasonable precautions, and did violation of those precautions lead to an individual’s injury?

Different Rules For Different People
There are three kinds of people who can come onto one’s property; invitees (people the property owner has invited, often for business or other events), licensees (those who are allowed to come on the property, such as customers to a store), and trespassers (who are not supposed to be on one’s property, but come anyway). While it might sound slightly counter-intuitive, all three categories of people need to be protected.

What does that mean? Well, it means that the property owner needs to take precautions to ensure that all three kinds of people don’t meet with accidents. Additionally it means that a property owner cannot create hazardous conditions and leave them in place with the intent to cause injury to some parties (an example being a trap meant to injure trespassers). It also means that property owners need to make regular efforts to keep their property safe, and to try and avoid as many accidents as possible.

When Is A Property Owner Liable?
There is no hard-and-fast rule that guarantees when a property owner is and isn’t liable for someone’s injuries, especially since the laws change from one jurisdiction to another. Every case has to be examined on its own merits, and the actions of the property owner need to be weighed carefully.

All of that said, the more precautions a property owner takes, the less likely accidents are to happen at all. When accidents do happen all of the preventative measures that were taken will weigh in the property owner’s defense, especially if the accident happened because the injured party chose to ignore warnings or otherwise act in ways that directly contributed to the accident and injury that occurred.If you have been injured on someone else’s property and believe the owner is at fault, please contact my office directly for a free consultation.

Steven M. Houde

Steven M. Houde

Attorney Houde is a top rated personal injury lawyer serving the Greater Boston region. With law offices in Medway, Attelboro, Needham, and Wellesley, Massachusetts, he will travel to meet clients at their home, hospital, or work. He is skilled at handling all facets of a successful injury claim, from proving liability to looking into all possible sources of insurance coverage to dealing with insurers and defense counsel.

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