Injuries on One's Property Are Governed by a Few Key Questions

Caution: Watch Your Step.

Premises Liability is legal liability for injuries which occur on your property. “Property” includes property you own or occupy (e.g., lease or rent), including the land and improvements on the land such as buildings, machinery and roads. A liability exists when an injury occurs due to hazardous conditions, such as inadequate security, insufficient lighting, falling objects, wet or icy surfaces, open excavations, concealed holes and defective chairs. One of the most common situations leading to a premises liability claim is “slip and fall.”

The underlying concept of premises liability is that if you own property, you have a responsibility to keep it safe and protect those who enter from danger. A premises owner can fulfill that responsibility in many ways, such as: maintaining safe conditions, notifying those who enter of potentially unsafe conditions, and/or taking measures to prevent people from entering.

Homeowners insurance and other types of property insurance usually include liability coverage specifically to insure the owner against premises liability claims.

Here are some of the questions that may arise in a premises liability case:

1.  Was the injured party invited onto/into the property?

Most laws governing premises liability, including the laws in Oklahoma, recognize three groups of people:

  • Invitees: For example, customers and clients in a commercial establishment.
  • Licensees: For example, friends who are visiting as social guests.
  • Trespassers: Someone who has no legitimate business on your property.

Property owners can be found liability even in the case of a trespasser injury. However, the owner has different levels of legal responsibility toward each of these three groups, so this becomes an important question in a premises liability case.

2.  Does the injured party share some of the blame for the injury?

There are big differences between someone who slips and falls on your icy sidewalk or falls due to defective stairs or flooring, and someone who takes a leap off your roof. In many personal injury cases, a judge and/or jury will tend to spread the blame among multiple parties. That means even if a plaintiff wins a premises liability case, the percentage of blame placed on the defendant will be a factor in determining the award the defendant will be ordered to pay. If the plaintiff is 50% or more at fault, then that person recovers nothing.

3.  Was the land, buildings and/or roads up to code?

Most lands, buildings and roads are governed by various city, county and/or state building codes and safety codes. If an injury occurs on property that is not up to code, the owner’s failure to comply with the codes will be an argument that favors the plaintiff. On the flipside, if the property does meet all relevant codes, that may be a point in favor of the defendant.

4.  Did the owner know about a hazardous condition and fail to do anything about it?

If the owner had no way of knowing that an injury might have happened, the owner is less liable (or not liable at all). However, if the owner did know or should have known, that is an argument in favor of the plaintiff. Did the owner make reasonable efforts to maintain the property, or was the owner reckless?

If previous similar injuries occurred on the same property, or if the owner received warnings about the hazard — well, the property owner better get a good lawyer.