Everyone should take a reasonable level of precaution when visiting somewhere, but the property owner has a responsibility to keep you free from harm.
A premises liability claim could include any type of injury, from a slip and fall to an elevator or escalator accident or a dog bite. In essence, it’s any injury that happened because there was a hazardous condition that wasn’t properly corrected by the property owner or manager. In New York, visitors and guests have rights.
What happens if you’re injured by a property hazard, either at someone’s home, in a public place like a store or restaurant, or on government-owned property like roads or sidewalks?
This area of law is known as premises liability. Its roots are in the notion that property owners should keep their land and buildings safe for visitors. “Visitors” can include anyone from the mail carrier to your mom, so we’ll break down categories of people who could potentially be injured on the property and how their visitor status would affect a legal claim.
Common types of premises liability lawsuits
There are a few common types premises liability lawsuits, though there are many other ways an accident could happen.
Slip and fall accidents
A slip or trip and fall could happen to anyone. Slip and fall accidents can include icy pavement in parking lots or on sidewalks, they could be from a puddle on the floor in the supermarket, or from cracked or broken steps or lumpy carpet. There are infinite ways a slip-and-fall accident could happen. While they often result in only minor injuries, they could become very serious with broken bones, head injuries, or spinal cord injuries.
Dog bites are included under premises liability law. The New York dog bite statute mixes a “one-bite rule” with a limited degree of strict liability. In other words, a dog gets “one free bite” but if it bites a second time, then the owner is strictly liable, but only for the victim’s medical (or veterinary) expenses.
An example of an inadequate security claim could be a victim who is assaulted in a parking garage that should have had better lights, surveillance cameras, guarded entry, or other reasonable precautions.
Construction site accidents
If a construction accident involves someone working on site, that person should first consult a New York workers’ compensation lawyer because a work-related claim would be eligible for benefits.
However, if you’re a passerby injured on a construction site, you would be more likely to file a premises liability claim for an injury from a property hazard.
Swimming pool accidents
Drowning isn’t the only accident that can happen in a swimming pool (though it certainly is the most dangerous). Some accidents happen because people dive into shallow water or slip on the pool deck or ladders.
An accident because of a property hazard would fall under premises liability—for instance, if the pool or surrounding deck isn’t properly maintained or the depth isn’t appropriately labeled. However, a drowning might not fall into this category; it could be general negligence. For example, if a parent or babysitter is responsible for supervising a child in the pool and they fail to watch them adequately, the child’s drowning wouldn’t be the result of a property hazard—it’s because of the adult’s negligent supervision.
On the other hand, if a homeowner doesn’t have a proper fence installed and locked and a child enters the pool area without permission and drowns, then it could be a premises liability claim because the homeowner failed to restrict access to the pool by unsupervised children.
Elevator and escalator accidents
Elevators and escalators are machines—and sometimes machines fail. A defect that causes a malfunction in an elevator or escalator, resulting in an injured person, could lead to a premises liability lawsuit.
Who is liable when someone is injured due to a property hazard?
Usually, the liable party is the property owner. This is the most straightforward scenario because if you own the property, you’re generally the one responsible for keeping it well-maintained and safe.
There are instances when the renter or a leaseholder would take on the responsibility for certain property maintenance. That would make them liable in some instances for an injury.
Proving negligence for a New York premises liability lawsuit
There are four factors that need to be proven for a successful premises liability lawsuit in New York:
- The defendant had a duty to keep the property safe.
- They failed in that duty.
- The failure to maintain the premises hazard-free directly caused the victim’s injury.
- The injury cost the victim money for medical treatment, lost wages, and related expenses.
In other words, the plaintiff (injured person) is entitled to be made financially whole after an injury caused by someone else’s negligence. That means they should be restored to the financial condition they would be in if the accident had never happened. If they slip and fall, for instance, and do not require medical treatment and didn’t take time off from work, then they are not entitled to compensation. However, if the injury had financial costs, they should be able to claim those expenses.
What can a plaintiff do to preserve evidence and prove their legal claim?
- Take pictures. Document the area where you were injured as soon as it’s safe to do so.
- Collect witness information. If someone saw what happened, get their contact details.
- Seek medical attention. This not only ensures you're okay, but it also provides official documentation of your injuries.
- Keep records. Save all medical bills, records of lost wages and any other expenses related to the injury.
Types of visitors: Invitees, trespassers, and licensees
In the eyes of the law, not all visitors are created equal:
- Invitees are people “invited” for a business-related purpose like customers in a store or the mail carrier.
For invitees, property owners have the highest level of responsibility. They must actively ensure the property is safe and warn of any dangers.
- Licensees are there for a social reason, like a party.
For licensees, the owner still has to maintain a reasonably safe environment, but they're mainly obligated to warn about known hazards.
- Trespassers weren't invited at all and usually have the least protection under the law.
Generally, the owner's only duty to a trespasser is not to intentionally harm them.
How a personal injury lawyer can help you
Navigating a premises liability claim isn't something you want to tackle alone. A lawyer can:
- Evaluate the strength of your case.
- Help collect and preserve evidence.
- Handle insurance company negotiations.
- Advocate for you in court if necessary.
Common defenses in premises liability claims
If you're filing a claim, prepare to hear some of these defenses:
- Comparative negligence. The owner claims you share some of the liability for your own injury.
- Assumption of risk. The owner might argue you knew about the risks but proceeded anyway.
- No notice. The owner could claim they had no way of knowing about the hazardous condition in time to fix it.
The attractive nuisance doctrine
This doctrine holds property owners responsible for harm to children who are lured onto the property by something "attractive."
Examples of attractive nuisances could be:
- Unsecured swimming pools
- Abandoned refrigerators or cars
- Play equipment visible from the street
In these cases, the owner must take extra steps to protect children from the tempting but dangerous item or condition.
Premises liability is a complex area of law, with the specifics depending heavily on your role on the property, the conditions that led to the injury, and your legal guidance. A good personal injury lawyer can be your strongest ally in navigating these complex situations, helping you understand your rights and securing the compensation you deserve.
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