Do You Understand California’s Premises Liability Laws?
A premises liability claim arises from a situation in which someone is injured on the property of another. It might be a homeowner or a business owner, and it has to involve negligence. This means that there was a dangerous condition on the property or a hazard, and the property owner or business owner should have known about and addressed (or set up warnings for) the hazard. A common form of premises liability claim is the slip and fall claim, though there are other accidents that fit into this category, as well, such as falling objects, fires, and other injuries that occur on someone’s property.
Establishing Negligence in a Premises Liability Claim
In order to have a valid premises liability claim, you cannot simply claim that an injury has occurred. You must also prove that negligence is what caused the injury. This means proving that the owner of the property owed you a duty of care, that he or she breached that duty of care, that this breach of duty caused the accident, and that the accident caused damages.
Does the Property Owner Owe You a Duty of Care?
To owe someone a duty of care means that the individual concerned has a duty to behave in a reasonable manner to prevent accidents and injuries. In a premises liability claim, this would mean removing any apparent hazards, inspecting to locate hazards, fixing them, or warning of them. A store might use a wet floor sign to warn of a slippery floor that’s just been mopped, for example.
To prove that a property owner owes you a duty of care, you have to consider your position on the property. Were you invited? Were you expected? Were you trespassing? Did you have any right to be there? A property owner owes a higher duty of care to someone whom they have invited onto the property than they do to a trespasser, for example.
Was the Duty of Care Actually Breached?
Once you’ve established that duty of care was owed to you and have identified the person who owes the duty of care, you must establish whether or not the duty of care was actually breached. For instance, if a property owner uses a wet floor sign to warn of a wet floor, they have not breached their duty, even if an accident occurs. However, if there is no warning and no effort to remove the hazard, then they may have breached the duty of care. Even so, there are cases where the property owner did not have time to respond to the hazard, because it just occurred; and there are times when the injured party causes the hazard themselves, such as by spilling something, so that no duty of care has been breached.
Did the Breach of Duty of Care Cause the Accident and Damages?
If you trip and fall because your shoelaces are untied, then it doesn’t matter if there was a puddle of water nearby which had not been addressed by the property owner. Rather, the breach of the duty of care must be what caused your premises liability accident. Further, the accident has to have caused damages. If you slip and fall, but are not injured, then there are no damages to justify a premises liability claim. If there are damages, and if the accident is caused by the breach of the duty of care, then you likely have a valid premises liability claim in which you can recover compensation for those damages.
When the Victim is Partially at Fault for Their Own Injury
There are some cases where a victim might be partially at fault for a premises liability injury. An example might be a case where the carpeting was damaged, but the victim who tripped had been drinking. Thus, it could be determined that the accident was caused, in part, by the property owner’s negligence in not repairing the carpeting and in part, by the intoxication of the individual who tripped.
When something like this happens, California’s laws on comparative negligence may apply. This means that both sides will be assigned a percentage of fault, and as long as the injury victim is less than 50% at fault for their own injury, they can recover compensation. However, that compensation will be limited to the percentage of fault that is held by the property owner. As an example, in a case where the damages amount to $1,000, and the injury victim is 20% at fault for the accident, he or she can only recover $800 or 20% of the damages.
When a Third Party is Involved in a Premises Liability Claim
Sometimes, a third party will be involved in a premises liability claim. This might happen when someone who is not the owner of the property or an employee of the owner of the property causes harm. Criminal activity is a common example of third party involvement in a premises liability claim. Usually, the property owner will not be held liable for the third-party negligence. However, there are some cases where the owner can be held liable for such negligence, such as if they knew about the criminal activity and did nothing to put a stop to it, such as hiring guards or improving the lighting.
When Injuries Occur on Public Property and Involve the Government
It is more difficult to pursue a premises liability claim when the injury occurs on public property and involves a governmental agency as the liable party. To be successful in such a claim, the victim must prove that the hazard was caused due to the negligence of a public or government employee and that the government agency or their employees were aware of the hazard and did nothing to correct it, despite having plenty of time to do so.
Contacting a California Premises Liability Attorney
When you’ve been injured on someone else’s property, whether it is a store, restaurant, person’s home, or a public location involving the government, you need the legal guidance, advice, and representation of a skilled California premises liability attorney. Contact the Legal Help Law Group for a free consultation to learn more about how we can put our experience and skills to work for you.