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Premises Liability


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Premises liability law states that the person who owns or is in possession of a property may be responsible for injuries sustained by people on that property. Premises liability claims usually are handled by the property owner’s insurance carrier. Conditions that could lead to premises accidents are uneven floor surfaces, poorly marked changes in elevation, slippery surfaces, broken sidewalks, uneven elevators and broken steps.

The Plaintiff’s Status

The extent of a property owner’s liability for damages depends on whether the plaintiff is categorized as an invitee, licensee or trespasser.

Invitee: An invitee is a visitor who enters the premises for the commercial benefit of the property owner/possessor. The owner/possessor owes the highest level of responsibility to the invitee. It is the duty of the owner/possessor to protect or warn an invitee of hazardous conditions on the premises.

Licensee: If the express or implied permission of the property owner/possessor is given to enter a property for reasons other than for commercial benefit, the guest is considered a licensee. In most cases, the property owner is not responsible for injuries unless the licensee can prove the following circumstances.

  • The possessor knew or should have known a condition existed that posed an unreasonable risk of harm to the licensee and should not have expected the licensee would discover or realize the danger.
  • The possessor did not exercise reasonable care to ensure the condition was safe or to provide warning of the unsafe condition.
  • The licensee was unaware of the condition and the risk involved.

Trespasser: Someone who enters a property without express or implied permission and for his or her own purpose that is not for the benefit of the owner is considered a trespasser. It is not usually required that the defendant prove the trespasser entered the property unlawfully.

Last update: Sept. 25, 2008

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