Everyone should take a reasonable level of precaution when visiting somewhere, but the property owner has a responsibility to keep you free from harm.
There are times when a trip and fall is no more than an "oopsie daisy" and you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on with a little embarrassment but no real injuries.
But there are other accidents that can result in much more significant injuries. A premises liability claim is any injury that happens because of a dangerous condition on a property.
Types of premises liability cases (examples)
A "dangerous condition" can be anything from a torn carpet to a falling tree branch, snow and ice on a sidewalk, or a dog bite. These are some of the most common examples of premises liability claims in Arizona:
- Exposed wires or broken lights
- Fire safety or code violations
- Injury or assault related to inadequate security or lighting
- Missing or broken railings
- Snow or ice
- Supermarket negligence
- Unmarked wet floors
- Water leaks that result in injury or mold exposure
If a person is injured in an attack, the property owner could be liable for damages if they didn't properly secure the area. This wouldn't exclude a criminal proceeding for the attacker; it would provide an opportunity for the plaintiff to pursue a civil lawsuit against the property owner or manager by filing a negligent security lawsuit.
This might include broken locks in an apartment building that allowed the attacker to gain access, poor lighting in a parking garage, inadequate security personnel in a retail store, or other conditions that would make it more likely for a plaintiff to be injured in a physical attack by a third party.
Invitees vs licensees vs trespassers
Someone who enters the property with express or implied permission for a business purpose. This could include a shopper in a retail store, a diner in a restaurant, a delivery person, or any other person who has a non-personal reason to enter a property.
Any person who is invited onto the property as a guest of the owner.
A person who enters a property illegally or without permission from the owner.
Arizona property owners' duties and responsibilities
Arizona law requires business owners to protect customers by warning them of any dangerous condition on the property. If you were injured on company property, you can file a lawsuit for failure to warn under these conditions:
- The business was aware of the dangerous condition.
- An employee created the dangerous condition.
- An employee or manager of the business should've discovered the condition before you were injured.
For example, if you were injured because you slipped in spilled water on the floor of a supermarket, you might want to know how long the water had been on the floor. Your lawyer might request security camera footage that shows how the water got there. If it was long enough that it should've been discovered by employees in the reasonable course of their duties, they can be negligent for not having cleaned it before you fell.
Non-commercial property owners
A non-commercial property owner (i.e. homeowner) also has duties to people on the property. This generally applies to guests, who are licensees.
Property owner's duty to a trespasser
A property owner isn't liable for an injury to a trespasser unless they purposely caused the danger. For example, if you set a trap because you suspected that someone was entering your property without permission and the person was injured because of the trap or a condition you purposely created, you might be liable.
You owe a higher duty of care to a child on your property, even if the child is trespassing or you didn't expect them to be there.
The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine says that you could be liable for an injury to a child trespassing on your property if the injury was caused by an object or condition that was likely to attract the child and if the child wouldn't have understood the risk of harm.
For instance, if a child gets into your swimming pool or trampoline because the fence was unlocked or broken, or if you leave machines like riding mowers or all-terrain vehicles accessible to a child, you might be liable for their injuries even if you didn't give permission for the child to be on your property.
A property owner must take reasonable steps to avoid the possibility of a child being injured by an attractive nuisance. This might include:
- Installing locks
- Removing potentially dangerous objects
- Installing a fence or barrier that blocks access to a dangerous area
- Removing keys from a vehicle and keeping doors and windows locked to prevent children from getting inside
- Covering ditches or holes
- Unplugging and locking up power tools
- Removing doors on appliances on the exterior of the property (like a refrigerator left on the curb for pickup)
If you're aware of an attractive nuisance on your property and you know the children who might be likely to trespass, you can also avoid some liability by warning the parents of the condition and requesting that they prohibit their children from entering your property. You can also speak to the children directly, but this would depend on their age and capability to understand a warning.
Preparing for an Arizona premises liability lawsuit
Your injury must meet the standard elements of negligence in order to recover damages for a premises liability accident.
These are the elements of negligence for any personal injury:
- Did a duty of care exist?
- Did the defendant breach the duty of care?
- Did that breach cause an injury?
- Did that injury lead to a monetary loss?
When you are pursuing a premises liability claim, you must ask these questions:
- Was the property owner aware of the unsafe condition? In actuality, the question is whether the owner was aware within a reasonable amount of time necessary to correct or warn of the hazard.
- Did the property owner warn visitors of the danger? For example, if you know that there's a branch dangling from a tree in your yard and it's threatening to fall, you might not be able to take it down immediately but you can warn your neighbors or passersby of the danger so they can avoid the area.
- Did the property owner try to correct the condition? The owner has a duty to make a reasonable attempt to correct a dangerous condition on their property.
Defenses to a premises liability lawsuit
Open and obvious danger
One of the most common defenses to a premises liability claim is that the hazard was "open and obvious." In other words, the danger was so clear and obvious that the plaintiff had a duty to avoid it, even without being warned by the owner.
Defendant had no knowledge of the hazard
If the defendant had no actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard, they might not be liable. The plaintiff would have to prove that the defendant did know (and it was unreasonable for them to be expected to know) that the hazard was present.
The plaintiff contributed to their own injuries
Arizona is a pure comparative negligence state, which means the damages a plaintiff can recover are reduced by the percentage by which they're at fault for their own injury.
For example, if you fell in a supermarket because there was a broken floor tile, but you were seen texting at the time, the defense could argue that although the floor was unsafe, you also weren't looking where you were going. The court might determine that you were 20% at fault and reduce your damage award by that amount.
Third-party behavior was unforeseeable
Certain businesses have a higher level of risk of injury than others. For example, there are certain safety precautions that a bank should take in order to prevent an armed robbery. If you were injured as a customer in a bank during a robbery, you might make the argument that the security was insufficient because banks are common targets for that type of danger.
However, what if you were injured during an armed robbery in a small bookstore? Any business can be targeted, but a small store in an area that's not known for violent crime would seem unlikely to be the site of an armed robbery. If you were injured during the course of a robbery, the store owner could make the argument that it was unforeseeable that the particular type of danger would arise and the security they had in place was sufficient for a foreseeable situation.
The property was not owned or controlled by the defendant
In any lawsuit, you need to be sure that you're naming the correct defendant. For example, if you're injured in a store in a shopping mall, your instinct could be to sue the owner of the mall. However, if you were in a particular store and the injury was the result of a defect that was within the control of the manager of that specific store, the defendant should be the store manager or owner, not the mall property.
Along those same lines, if the injury happens inside someone's rented home because you fell over a torn carpet, that might be the responsibility of the renter, not the landlord.
Recreational use immunity
If an area of land or a facility is intended for recreational use, the owner, lessee, tenant, occupant, or manager is protected by law unless the injury happened because of willful, malicious, or grossly negligent conduct.
The exception is if you were required to pay an admission fee to use the land. For example, if you paid a fee for admission to an amusement park, there would no longer be immunity if you're injured.
Damages from a premises liability claim
In a premises liability claim, you can recover damages for:
- Medical treatment related to the injury, which includes hospital or doctor visits, surgeries, prescription medication, diagnostic testing, therapies, and other costs.
- Lost wages if you had to take time off from work during your recovery, or if you become disabled from the injury and are no longer able to return to the job you had prior to the accident.
- Pain and suffering compensation if the injury resulted in long-term or serious injury.
- Punitive damages if the defendant's action or inaction was grossly negligent or willful and wanton behavior.
- Wrongful death if you are the surviving family member of someone who died in a premises liability accident.
If you were injured as a result of a property-related defect, or if someone else was injured on your property, you should contact an Arizona personal injury lawyer who is experienced and who will be compassionate to your needs.
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