Generally, a property owner, person or entity in possession of property (or legal occupier) owes no duty to protect one outside the premises from natural or artificial conditions on the property. However, there are two exceptions. First, a landowner or occupier is liable for damages caused by unreasonably dangerous artificial conditions or structures abutting adjacent land. And second, the landowner or occupier has a duty to take due precautions to protect 'passersby' from dangerous conditions on her land. A landowner or occupier also has a duty to exercise reasonable care with respect to his own activities on the land and to control the conduct of others on his property to avoid unreasonable risks of harm to others outside the property.
Duty of Possessor to Those on the Premises
When you enter property belonging to another person, you have a reasonable expectation of not getting injured. This means that the property owner (or non-owner occupier), are responsible for maintaining a relatively safe environment. If they fail to do so and someone is injured on the 'premises', they can be held responsible, or 'liable' for the injury. This is known as "premises liability."
For example, a courier delivering a package may sue you for injuries if he slips and falls on an oil slick in the driveway. But if that same courier slipped because he was intoxicated or otherwise acted in an unsafe way he may not have a valid claim, even if he happened to slip on the oil slick in the driveway but did so while acting in an unsafe manner.The legal theory of premises liability holds that both property owners and persons or entities in possession, such as lessees and other occupiers, are liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property. The kinds of incidents that may result in premises liability claims can range from a slip and fall on a sidewalk to an injury suffered on an amusement park ride.
California Legal Status of Visitor is either an Invitee, Licensee, or Trespasser
California is a state that primarily focuses on the status of the visitor to the property. There are generally three different classifications of visitors that may apply: (1) Invitee, (2) Licensee, which includes a social guest; and (3) Trespasser. An "invitee", is someone who is invited or asked to come to the premises by the property owner or legal occupier for the owner-occupier's benefit. This invitation may be express or implied. For example, a person who is expressly invited to an auction by way of receiving a mailed invitation is an invitee. However, a customer who visits a store, even though they were not expressly invited by an invitation, is also an invitee because a store open for business by its nature is inviting the public to visit and shop for the benefit of the store owner. On the other hand, a "licensee" enters property for his own benefit and purpose, as a social guest, but is present at the express or implied consent and often inducement of the owner or person in possession. Finally, a trespasser enters without any invitation or right whatsoever to do so. In the case of trespassers, there is no implied promise that reasonable care has been made to assure the safety of the property.
Duties owed to Each Class of Visitors in California
An invitee is someone who is invited onto the property of another, such as a customer in a store. The invitee loses his or her privileged status if they exceed the scope of their invitation. This 'invitation' usually implies that the property owner/possessor/ has taken reasonable steps to assure the safety of the premises. The premises owner/possessor owes the invitee a general duty to use reasonable care to keep the property safe, to exercise reasonable care in active operations, to warn against non-obvious dangerous conditions, plus a duty to make reasonable inspections and to repair any known defects.
2. Licensee, (includes a Social Guest)
The premises owner/possessor owes the licensee a duty to warn against non-obvious dangerous conditions known to the owner that create an unreasonable risk of harm to the licensee, plus a duty to exercise reasonable care in active operations. They do not owe a duty to licensees to make reasonable inspections or to repair any known defects.
3. Trespassers on Property
With respect to trespassers, the owner owes no duty. However, if the owner knows, or reasonably should have known, that it is likely trespassers will enter the property he or she is charged with a duty to give reasonable warning to prevent injury and to exercise reasonable care in active operations. This requirement to give reasonable warnings applies only with respect to artificial conditions that the owner has created or maintains and knows may be likely to cause serious injury or death. However, even in cases where there is a dangerous artificial condition, a landowner does not necessarily need to give warning to potential trespassers if the condition is obvious.
For example, for all three classes of visitors named, an owner can be found liable if he or she has knowledge of a dangerous condition, fails to take reasonable steps to fix that condition (or warn visitors), and a visitor suffers an injury or death as a result, even if the visitor is a trespasser if the owner knows or reasonably should have known it is likely the trespassers will enter the property.
Children on Property
Children may be in the same three classes as
adults if their presence of the property meets the definitions
of any visitor classification.
A landowner's duty to warn is different with respect to children who are not authorized to be on property, (trespassing children). A property owner/possessor must give warning if he or she knows (or should know) that children are likely to be on the premises, and that a dangerous condition on the premises is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death. Concerning children, an owner/possessor will be found liable for any dangerous artificial conditions on their property that they are aware of if they also are aware that, (i) children may trespass on the premises, and (ii) the burden in eliminating the dangerous condition, or making it safe, is less than the risk it causes to the trespassing child or children if the dangerous condition is left alone.
Comparative Fault: When Both Parties are at Fault
One of the most commonly used ways that premises owner/possessor's avoid liability is the argument that the injured person was partially at fault for what happened. A visitor to the premises belonging to or legally possessed by another, no matter what classification, have a duty in most cases to exercise reasonable care for his or her own safety. When that care is not exercised appropriately your recovery may be limited or reduced by your own negligence. California is a "pure comparative fault" state in all personal injury cases, including premises liability. This means that a person suing for legal damages will see her damages reduced by a percentage that is equivalent to her fault for the incident. For example, if it is decided that an injured person was 75% liable for an accident and the total damages were $10,000, he or she will receive only $2,500, or 25% of the value of the damages. Total damages are 100% (-) the injured person being75% liable for an accident, (=) 25% recovery.
Special Rules for Landlords
Special rules of liability may apply in cases of lessors (landlords) of property. The general rule holds that a lessor is not liable to a lessee (the person renting the premises from the lessor or landlord) or anyone else, for physical harm caused by a condition on the property. This general rule is based partially on the lessor's presumed lack of control over the property once it is leased, but the rule has numerous important exceptions. Some of these exceptions are (i) a lessor is responsible for injuries that occur as a result of a latent defect that existed at the time the lessee took possession of the property if the lessor knew, or had reason to know, of the defect and did not warn the lessee. A latent defect is a concealed, unreasonably dangerous condition, either artificial or natural. (ii) If the lessor agrees to undertake a repair for the benefit of the lessee, it must be done in a non-negligent manner. Other exceptions may apply in other circumstances, such as (iii) where the lessor opens the property for admission of the public, or (iv) where the lessor maintains control of the premises. Usually, these exceptions concern varying degrees of the landlord holding some level of control over the premises.
You May Be Eligible to Receive Damages
You may be able to recover economic and non-economic damages. Generally speaking, economic damages are those to replace money you have lost through expenditures or lost earnings. Examples of these damages include, but are not limited to, loss of earnings and future earning potential. In addition, if there is an injury or death, economic damages include medical expenses to be repaid to your healthcare insurance company, Medicare, Medi-Cal or any other medical treatment or care provider engaged on your behalf. Economic damages also include those for expenses for treatment you are expected to need in the future, along with out-of-pocket payments for medical devices, prescriptions, transportation, household assistance, and any other such expenses you may experience. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Non-economic damages are serious losses that are more difficult to assign a dollar value, including pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, and loss of quality of life.
If I Am Injured On the Premises or Property of Another, What Do I Do Next?
If you are injured or suffer a loss on property belonging to another contact the Lee Law Group and we will assist you throughout the entire ordeal, most times at no costs to you unless and until you recover your loss. It is important to contact us, or some other attorney, as soon as possible because if you eventually have to file a lawsuit you must file it within a specified period of time by law. This period of time, known as the ‘statute of limitations’, could bar your case if you do not act in time.
Once you contact the Lee Law Group, we will investigate to ensure liability, that is, to confirm that someone else is responsible for your injuries and other damages. Often times we will be able to call on experts, for example, accident reconstruction experts or experts in animated reconstruction to provide theoretic or visual replays of the incident and provide a professional opinion concerning causation and theories on the nature and extent of your injuries.
In addition, if you are injured, we will work closely with your medical care providers to ensure you obtain the best possible care for your injuries. If you do not have a physician, or other medical care provider, the Lee Law Group will engage a respected care provider, whether you need a regular physician, physician specialists, chiropractor, physical therapist, or all of the above, on your behalf with no payment required until your case is resolved. These medical care providers will provide a professional opinion concerning the extent of your injuries and your prognosis.
Then, once we have a firm idea of the costs of your medical treatment and of the fair compensation for all your damages, we will write a settlement demand letter to the premises (property) owner's insurance company for compensation to cover your damages and injuries. Usually negotiations are required at this point and the Lee Law Group will conduct your negotiations with the insurance company until we have a settlement agreement that you can accept because final approval of any potential settlement rests with you, not the attorneys. Many cases are settled in this way. However, if the insurance company refuses to offer a settlement that you can accept, we will file a lawsuit to obtain your compensation and relief, still at not costs to you unless and until you recover compensation.
What Happens if I File a Lawsuit For Premise Liability?
If the Lee Law Group is forced to file a lawsuit to obtain your just compensation we will litigate your case from start to finish explaining the process to you every step of the way. We will instruct you on what to do and when to do it, making the process as simple as possible. A great majority of cases are settled after filing a lawsuit without having to actually conduct a trial. However, if a trial is necessary we at the Lee Law Group are experienced in trial work and will energetically try your case still at no costs to you unless and until you are compensated for your injuries.
If you are injured on the Premises (Property) of another, contact the Lee Law Group so we can fight for you.