Premises Liability: Can You Prove It?

If you are hurt by an accident on someone else’s property, can you hold the land owner legally and financially responsible for your injuries? The question concerns an area of law called premises liability . The answer depends on whether you can meet these requirements:

  • You were lawfully on the property.
  • Your accident was caused by an unsafe condition.
  • The land owner was negligent in that he knew or should have known of the unsafe condition but failed to correct it or warn of it.
  • The land owner’s negligence resulted in your injury.

The Land Owner’s Responsibility

Property owners owe a reasonable duty of care to those who are invited or otherwise allowed to be on the premises. A land owner must maintain the property to avoid the risk of injury to those who use it. If the owner is aware of a dangerous condition he must repair it or erect signs, guards or barriers to warn of it. The fact that an accident occurs does not, in and of itself, mean that the property owner is liable for negligence. You must be able to show that the land owner knew or should have known that a dangerous condition existed.

There are two ways you can prove a land owner’s knowledge. Actual notice means that the land owner was told about the problem. Constructive notice means that the hazard was visible and apparent and existed long enough for the property owner to observe it and repair it. For example, if you hurt yourself by slipping and falling on a beer bottle in a stairwell, the land owner is not liable for your injury unless you can show that he knew that particular bottle was there. On the other hand, if the land owner knew that beer bottles tend to accumulate on the stairwell during weekends, he might be held liable for accidents and injuries that result.

Hazardous Conditions

Unsafe conditions on property occur in an endless variety of ways. The can injure repairmen as well as guests, tenants and shoppers at commercial establishments. A leaking ceiling may create slippery floor conditions and a risk of falling. A glass partition may be inadequately marked and dangerous to those who fail to see it while walking. Crumbling brick work and masonry on a building’s exterior may fall and injure workers and pedestrians below. Stairways can be especially risky due to

  • Broken or missing hand rails.
  • Steps that are too high or too steep.
  • Unevenness in step height or depth.
  • Worn or torn carpeting on stairs.
  • Slippery or icy conditions due to spills or weather.
  • Construction or maintenance defects that violate local building codes.

The Firefighter’s Rule

At times, firefighters, police officers or other emergency services personnel are injured due to unsafe conditions on property. In the past, they were unable to seek damages for their injuries under ordinary negligence rules. This is because, under the so-called ‘firefighter’s defense’ these workers were held to be specially trained to confront risks and dangers on behalf of the public. In addition, they were provided with job benefits and compensation in the form of sick leave and line-of-duty injury status.

Since the late 1990s, however, the law has changed. Generally, there is no longer any firefighter’s defense in lawsuits against private property owners. The rule may still apply in actions against municipalities and their agencies.

Ask A Competent Attorney

Injuries due to unsafe, defective or poorly maintained property conditions are unfortunate daily occurrences. It is not always easy to prove that a land owner is negligent and therefore liable for an injury. The attorneys at the Orlow firm are experienced and knowledgeable in this area of the law. They offer free initial consultations and operate four offices across New York City for your convenience. They can go to you if you cannot come to them. To contact the Orlow firm, call (646) 647-3398.