What is the liability of a property owner to a person who gets injured on their property?

A person who is lawfully on someone else's property and who is injured as a result of some negligence of that property owner may have a claim against the property owner. The duty or standard of care to which the property owner is held may depend on the status of injured person.

The different statuses that may apply are that of:

  • invitee - typically someone who comes onto the property for some legitimate business purpose;
  • licensee - may generally be thought of as a social guest; or
  • trespasser - someone who is not allowed on the premises and who is there without the knowledge or consent of the property owner.

Exactly what duty is owed by the property owner to each of these different classes of persons may vary dramatically from state to state. The general rule of law, however, is that a property owner has a duty to exercise ordinary care to keep his or her premises in n reasonably safe condition. When an owner fails to exercise that ordinary care and someone who is lawfully on the premises is injured as a result, the property owner may be liable.

One thing that distinguishes premises liability claims from other types of tort claims is that the party who is injured (the plaintiff) must prove that the property owner had notice of the defective condition on the premises. For instance, if your daughter slips and falls on a oil spot in a garage, she does not necessarily have a basis for a claim against the company that runs the garage. She must present some evidence of how long that oil had been on the floor in order to prevail on such a claim. If it turns out that the oil had only been there a short period of time and was there because of the actions of some other person other than the company that owns the garage or their employee, the company that owns the garage may not have had a reasonĀ­able opportunity to see the oil and clean it up. Thus, there may not be any negligence on the part of the company that owns the garage.

The logic of this rule is that a property owner is not necessarily a guarantor of the safety of all persons on his or her premises but is simply required to exercise ordinary care. A property owner can only exercise ordinary care as to those defects or deficiencies that he or she has some knowledge of or that he or she should have known of.

In the case of your daughter, she must prove that the oil had been on the floor long enough that the company that owns the garage should have known that the oil was on the floor. The company that owns the garage should therefore have cleaned it up or placed signs out to warn of the oil on the floor.

If the oil was placed on the floor either intentionally or accidentally by an employee of the company that owns the garage, then your daughter may not have to prove that the garage had notice of the presence of the oil. The negligence of the employee in placing it there would simply be imputed to the employer.

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