Find out who’s liable when you’re injured on someone else’s property
All accidents take place somewhere. If they take place on someone else’s property, you might be able to sue the owner of the property.
Premises liability laws determine when a property owner is liable for someone else’s injuries. All states have premises liability laws, but the specific language of the laws differs significantly from state to state.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at Alabama’s premises liability laws.
Establishing a premises liability claim
There are all sorts of accidents that may occur on someone else’s property. For example:
- Bike accidents
- Exposed-wire accidents
To establish liability against a property owner, you need to prove 3 things:
- The property owner had a duty to protect you from harm,
- The property owner breached their duty to protect you from harm, and
- You were injured as a direct result of the breach.
With those 3 elements in mind, you’re probably wondering how to find out whether a property owner had a duty to protect you from harm and, if they did, how to find out the extent of that duty.
The specific obligations of a property owner depend on your legal status when the injury occurred (i.e., whether you were a trespasser, licensee or invitee at the time of the accident).
|Alabama premises liability laws|
|Legal status||Definition||Duty owed|
|Trespasser||A person who is on the premises without permission from the owner.||Owners and occupiers have a duty to refrain from intentionally injuring trespassers.|
|Invitee||A person who is on the premises for some purpose that commercially benefits the owner or occupier of the premises (e.g., a customer in a retail store).||Owners and occupiers have a duty to use “reasonable care and diligence” to keep the premises in a safe condition or, if the premises are in a dangerous condition, give sufficient warning of the dangers. This duty extends to dangers that the owners and occupiers knew or should have known about.|
|Licensee||A person who is on the premises with permission from the owner for their own convenience, curiosity or entertainment (e.g., a social guest).||Owners and occupiers have a duty to correct or warn against dangerous conditions. However, owners can only be held responsible for dangers they actually knew about.|
Let’s take a look at an example that will help clarify the duties owed by a property owner:
Earl decides to visit the 10-acre property owned by Maurice. While walking in Maurice’s field, Earl falls into a large hole and breaks his leg. Earl sues Maurice for $50,000. Maurice denies liability, claiming he didn’t even know about the hole.
Is Maurice liable for Earl’s injuries?
- If Earl is a trespasser (e.g., Earl didn't have permission to be on Maurice’s land), Maurice is not liable for Earl’s injuries because he didn’t intentionally injure Earl.
- If Earl is an invitee (e.g., Maurice owns a u-pick orchard and Earl was on Maurice’s property to pick and purchase some apples), Maurice is probably liable for Earl’s injuries because he should have known about the large hole.To determine whether a property owner should have known about a dangerous condition, courts will look at things like how long the dangerous condition was on the property and whether the owner regularly inspected the property for dangerous conditions.
- If Earl is a licensee (e.g., Earl is a friend of Maurice’s stopping by for a visit), Maurice isn’t liable for Earl’s injuries because Maurice didn’t know about the hole.
Alabama’s attractive nuisance doctrine
Alabama has an exception to the general rule that property owners and occupiers don't have to make dangerous conditions safe for trespassers.
Under Alabama’s attractive nuisance doctrine, a property owner can be held liable to a trespassing child if:
- A dangerous condition exists on the property,
- The dangerous condition is particularly dangerous to children and the danger is unlikely to be understood by them (in other words, a reasonable child wouldn’t understand that the condition is dangerous),
- The condition is especially attractive to children, and
- The injury is reasonably foreseeable.
Examples of common attractive nuisances include:
- Sharp objects found in junkyards
- Partially-constructed homes
- Swimming pools
Who can file a premises liability claim?
Generally speaking, any person injured on another person's property can file a premises liability claim.
In cases where a person was killed on someone else's property, certain family members of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim to secure compensation for funeral expenses, loss of future earnings, loss of companionship and other damages.
Common defenses to premises liability claims
If you’re seeking damages from a property owner, it’s unlikely the owner (or their insurance carrier) will simply roll over and give you whatever you want.
Here are 4 commonly raised defenses to premises liability claims:
- Contributory negligence. Alabama is a pure contributory negligence state. This means that if the plaintiff is found to be even 1 percent at fault for the accident, they’re prohibited from recovering ANY damages.
- Assumption of the risk. Assumption of the risk prevents a plaintiff from suing for damages arising from a risk for which the plaintiff knowingly consented. The consent can be expressed (usually in the form of a written waiver) or implied, but the plaintiff must have had actual knowledge of the risk before consenting.
- Recreational use defense. In most cases, owners have no duty to keep land free from dangerous conditions if the land is primarily used for recreational purposes (such as hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, water sports or climbing).
- Open and obvious. Property owners typically won’t be held liable if the dangerous condition that caused the injury was “open and obvious.”
The customer sued Dollar General.
In holding that Dollar General was not liable for the customer’s injuries, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the boxes were an “open and obvious” hazard. The court pointed to the fact that the boxes were stacked knee-high and the customer had previously navigated similar boxes of merchandise in the store.
Damages available in an Alabama premises liability case
The injuries sustained in premises liability cases vary widely depending on the nature of the accident.
Fortunately, Alabama allows premises liability victims to recover 3 types of damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by an accident (for example, medical expenses, lost wages and property damage).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by an accident (for example, pain and suffering).
- Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are only available in cases in which the defendant acted intentionally.
Will a property owner’s insurance cover my damages?
Most premises liability claims are covered under the property owner’s liability insurance policy. This means you may be able to file an insurance claim rather than a civil lawsuit, which can be particularly nice if you’re injured on a friend or family member’s property and don’t want to sue them.
Keep in mind that if the insurance policy doesn’t cover your damages or your damages exceed the policy limits, you’ll need to sue the property owner to receive compensation.
Alabama statute of limitations
In Alabama, the statute of limitations for premises liability claims involving physical injuries is 2 years. That means you have 2 years from the date you suffered your injury to file your lawsuit.
For claims involving property damage (for example, damage to your bicycle or clothing), you have 6 years to file your claim.
There are a couple of exceptions to the above statute of limitations that may extend or reduce the time you have to file a claim. It’s always a good idea to meet with an Alabama premises liability lawyer as soon as possible following an accident so you can take advantage of your legal rights.
To meet with an experienced Alabama personal injury attorney near you, consider visiting our free online directory.
Need a lawyer?
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more