Premises Liability Accidents in California

Who's liable when you're injured on someone else's property?

Premises liability laws determine whether a landlower, lessor, or occupier is liable for injuries that occur on their premises.

What happens if someone is injured on your property? Can you be held liable?

What if you're injured on someone else's property? Can you sue the landowner? What about the landlord?

The term "premises liability" refers to a set of laws that deal with these questions. Though every state recognizes some form of premises liability, the specific laws differ from state to state.

Let's take a look at premises liability in California.

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Premises liability basics

Under California's premises liability laws, a person who owns, leases, occupies, or controls a premise is negligent if they fail to do either of the following 2 things:

  1. Use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition
  2. Use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could reasonably be expected to harm others

In deciding whether the owner, lessor, or occupier used reasonable care, the court can consider the following factors:

  • The location of the property
  • The likelihood that someone would visit the property
  • The likelihood of harm
  • The probable seriousness of such harm
  • Whether the defendant knew or should have known of the condition that created the risk of harm
  • The difficulty of protecting against the risk of such harm
  • The extent of the defendant's control over the condition that created the risk of harm
Enjuris tip: In many states, the duty owed by the defendant (the landowner, lessor, or occupier) depends on the classification of the plaintiff (e.g., licensee, invitee, trespasser) at the time the injury occurred. Though courts in California can consider the nature of the plaintiff's appearance on the defendant's property, the defendant's duties are not dependent on the classification of the plaintiff.

Premises liability actions can involve a broad range of situations, including dog bites, swimming pool accidents, and slip and falls. Let's take a look at an example of a common premises liability action.

Ben owns a house on Hanover Street in Woodland, California. Ben is in the process of installing an in-ground pool in his backyard. He's dug the hole, but hasn't done anything else.

Tyler is riding his bike along Hanover Street one night when he decides to take a shortcut through Ben's property to reach Meadow Street. While on the property, Tyler falls into the hole and injures himself.

Is Ben liable for Tyler's injuries? It depends.

Remember, Ben must use reasonable care to keep his property in a reasonably safe condition. A court could conclude that Ben's failure to put up a fence around the hole constituted a failure to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition.

On the other hand, the court could also conclude that the hole was obvious enough that Tyler should have seen and avoided it (more on this in the "defenses" section below). The court would probably want to know whether the area was well lit at night, and also whether Ben knew that people frequently used his property as a shortcut.

Defenses to premises liability lawsuits

A landowner, lessor, or occupier may avoid responsibility in a premises liability action if they can prove one of the following scenarios:

  • That the dangerous condition was open and obvious (a condition is "open and obvious" if a reasonable person should have seen and avoided the condition)
  • That misuse of property led to the person's injury
  • That the injured person was aware of the dangerous condition before they were hurt (for example, Tyler knew about the hole in Ben's yard)
  • That the injury was caused by a minor, trivial, or insignificant defect on the property (this is sometimes called the "trivial defect defense")

Who can file a premises liability claim in California?

Typically, any person (even a trespasser) injured on another person's property can file a premises liability claim if they suspect negligence played a role.

In cases where a person was killed on someone else's property, the deceased's family members can file a wrongful death claim to secure compensation for funeral expenses, loss of future earnings, loss of companionship, and other damages.

What if the property is maintained by an independent contractor?

In California, the duty owed by a possessor of land is non-delegable. This means that the possessor of land is liable for harm even if they hire someone to maintain the property and the person hired fails to maintain the property in a safe manner.

Let's look at another example.

John owns an apartment in Beverly Hills that he rents out to vacationers. John lives in a house in Sacramento. Because he doesn't live near the apartment, he hires an independent contractor to perform upkeep on the apartment.

Alex rents the apartment in Beverly Hills. Upon arriving at the apartment, he trips on a broken step and breaks his ankle. Alex sues John for failing to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.

Is John liable?

Yes. Even though John hired an independent contractor to maintain the premises, he remains ultimately liable for any injuries that occur on the property. (Note that John could potentially sue the independent contractor for negligence).

What damages are available in a premises liability case?

If liability is proven in your case, compensation may be awarded for the following:

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the damages available in a California personal injury case.

California statute of limitations

For most premises liability cases, the injured person has 2 years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. If the injured person fails to file a lawsuit by the deadline, their case will likely be dismissed and they will recover nothing.

There are a couple of exceptions to the 2-year statute of limitations. For example, if the injured person is suing a government entity, they must file an administrative claim within 6 months. Another exception is if the injured person is under the age of 18, in which case the statute of limitations won't begin to run until the injured person turns 18.

The best way to ensure you file your lawsuit in time is to seek out an experienced California attorney as soon as possible after the injury.

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What does an injury lawyer do?

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

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