What is Premises Liability Law?

Jim B.

Premises liability law refers to the set of laws that hold home or business owners responsible for any injuries that might be suffered by visitors to their premises. These injuries are usually referred to as "slip and fall" injuries and, even though they might be accidental in nature, landowners can still be liable for the damages caused by these accidents.

Workers who are injured on a construction site can bring suit to the property owners for failing to provide a safe work area.
Workers who are injured on a construction site can bring suit to the property owners for failing to provide a safe work area.

The liability level depends upon both the nature of the visitor and whether the injury could have been prevented by the owner. In addition to the inside of a home or business and all surrounding areas which they own, premises liability law also requires landowners to keep public sidewalks clean in front of the property.

In premises liability law, the person who owns the land is known as the possessor. This can refer to homeowners or those who own any kind of business that is open to the public, such as restaurants or stores. Visitors are broken down legally into invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Invitees are people who enter a premises with the intent of doing business or for commercial reasons, like customers at a store. Licensees are those who enter a premises for non-business reasons with the consent of the possessor, like visitors to a home. Trespassers are those who do not have permission to enter a premises.

The liability burden is dependent upon what type of visitor is injured by the accident. Business owners are held to the strictest burden by premises liability law. They must provide a safe environment for their customers, and they are liable for injuries to visitors not only if they knew about the hazard that caused the injury and failed to notify the customer, but also if they should have known about the potential hazard.

Homeowners also must be vigilant to protect themselves from liability for accidents occurring on their property. If a visitor falls on a broken step, bad flooring, or an icy driveway, the homeowner would be liable if he or she knew about the problem, failed to rectify it, and failed to tell the visitor about the hazard. Trespassers have little chance for protection from premises liability law, unless they can prove that the home or business owner knew about their presence when the injury occurred.

Public areas like sidewalks can also be the responsibility of the possessor. For example, a store owner could be liable if someone slips and falls on a snow-covered public sidewalk directly outside the business. Premises liability law requires that possessors take care of areas like these even though they technically don't own them.

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