Everybody’s heard of the slip and fall accident. It often happens when a property owner fails to clean up a wet floor or clear an icy sidewalk. If the accident is the fault of the property owner, the injured party may have a legal claim under a body of law known as premises liability. It’s a legal doctrine that can cover many other scenarios — everything from dog bites to assaults in apartment buildings.
Premises liability occurs when one party is injured while on property owned or occupied by another party. In Georgia, as elsewhere, the injured party must prove not only that he or she was injured, but that the property owner was at fault. This means proving the owner’s negligence or other bad act was directly responsible for the injury.
Three Things to Know
- Different types of injured parties must prove different levels of fault on the part of the property owner. Someone who’s invited onto the premises need only show the property owner failed to exercise the same care as a reasonable person. Those who are allowed to use the premises but aren’t invited must prove the property owner willfully and wantonly injured them with hidden dangers. Trespassers must demonstrate they were willfully and wantonly injured.
- In order for a premises liability case to succeed in court, the injured party has to establish that a reasonable person could have foreseen the injury happening under the circumstances. In a grocery store, for example, it’s easy to foresee that a spill of soapy detergent on the floor could lead to a slip and fall and a broken hip. In other cases, especially where a third party plays a role, it can be harder to prove the property owner could foresee the injury.
- It’s also important to know whether the property owner took reasonable steps to protect those who use the property. This includes providing adequate warning about potential dangers. If the injured person knew about the danger, the property owner won’t be held liable. This rule applies when the danger is in plain view in a place where one would normally expect to find it.
Premises liability has been used in a wide variety of cases. Violent crimes in apartment buildings and parking garages are one example that has shown up in courts in recent years. In Florida, for example, a former college student was awarded $15.7 million after abductors sneaked past the security gate of her apartment complex, carjacked her in the parking garage and shot her three times in the head.
That legal outcome is less likely in Georgia, where so-called “tort reform” has made it easier for property owners to spread the blame when third parties are involved. Courts can force jurors to divide fault, by percentage, among everyone who played a role in the injury, whether or not they’re involved in the lawsuit or subject to damages. This means the property owner may end up owing nothing because the jury feels someone else deserves more blame — even though the property owner’s failure to keep the property safe contributed significantly to the injury.
If you have been hurt on someone else’s property and you feel the owner is to blame, call Ty Wilson for a review of your claim.