A fall can result in broken bones, head trauma, or other serious injuries. And, while many falls are caused by medical conditions, vision problems, and normal human error (aka "clumsiness"), some are because of hazards like broken or uneven steps, rug edges, or an obstacle that causes someone to trip.
But, a hazard you encounter on someone else's property (which is really anywhere outside your own) isn't limited to falls. It could be an indoor accident, like being hit by a broken door in a public restroom, an outdoor hazard like a falling tree branch, an accident from poor lighting in a parking garage, or any other injury that's a result of a condition on the property.
The other side of premises liability law is understanding your obligations and liabilities as a homeowner or property owner if someone is injured on your property.
North Carolina's premises liability laws refer to a property owner or manager's responsibility to maintain safe conditions for visitors. That means anyone who is legally on the property — such as an invited guest, employee, customer, tenant, or person in a public area like a park. The law usually doesn't protect someone who's not legally permitted to be on a property, like a trespasser.
In order to bring a successful premises liability claim, you'll need to prove that:
"Reasonable care" doesn't mean a property has to be in pristine condition. Rather, it means the owner must take reasonable steps to protect a visitor from harm.
For example, a store manager is expected to quickly clean up a spill that might make the floor slippery. A homeowner would be responsible for trimming low-hanging tree branches that could injure someone walking beneath them.
In both of these scenarios, there's the potential harm that the owner should reasonably know about and that they have a duty to correct.
If there's a hazard that can't be corrected, the owner has a duty to warn a visitor of the condition.
Here's an example:
The landowner is aware that a large tree that extends over an outdoor walkway has some dead branches near the top and that there's a risk that the branches could fall. The landowner might not be able to remove the branches easily or immediately, but they must post a sign or warning that a visitor should avoid walking in the area beneath the branches.
On the other hand, if a tree falls across a walkway in a way that's obvious to a visitor, the owner likely doesn't have a duty to warn because the visitor should already be aware of the danger on their own.
If someone trespasses, the property owner doesn't have a duty to warn. Instead, they only must avoid willfully (purposely) harming the trespasser.
There are some exceptions to the law regarding an injury to trespassers. There are some cases where a plaintiff has "implied permission," which is a situation when they might not have needed explicit permission to enter a property. For example, a delivery person or mail carrier has implied permission to enter a property.
There's also the "attractive nuisance" doctrine, where the property owner is liable for a child's injury if there was a dangerous condition that was likely to interest or attract a child. For example, if you have a trampoline on your property that isn't surrounded by a fence or barrier, it could be considered an attractive nuisance if it's accessible to a child who might wander over to play without an invitation.
In the eyes of the law, there are 3 main types of property:
It's important to know who has actual control over the property where you were injured. If you were injured inside a restaurant that's within a shopping mall or plaza, chances are the property is owned by the mall operator but the responsibility of the restaurant manager. But it might depend on the nature of the injury.
For example, if the corner of a rug came loose and you tripped and fell as a result, that's likely the responsibility of the restaurant management. They're the ones that should've been aware of a dangerous condition and corrected it.
But if a portion of the ceiling crumbles and you're hit with falling debris, that might be the mall operator's negligence. These are issues for a lawyer to determine. You might not know who was responsible for your injury in a situation where there could be more than 1 negligent party.
Public property — the street, sidewalks, parks, and other areas that are maintained by a municipality or other government agency — must be maintained by a specific agency. Even so, they're responsible only for maintaining an area where you're lawfully permitted to be.
Here's an example:
It was a beautiful day and Holly Hiker decided to go for a hike on her favorite trail at Falls Lake State Park, which isn't far from her home in Raleigh. She and her friend Fred headed out with all the necessary provisions — snacks, water, bug spray, sunscreen, and more. Holly and Fred are experienced hikers and very familiar with many of the local trails.
But Holly loves an adventure.
They'd been hiking for a while when Holly decided that she wanted to leave the trail and move closer to the edge of an embankment to get a better view of the reservoir. Fred pointed out to Holly that there were signs warning visitors to stay on the trail, and even one saying that going off-trail in that particular area could be dangerous. But Holly said she'd be careful and she really wanted to see something new.
Holly and Fred left the trail and headed into a woodsy area that wasn't maintained for hikers. She reached the edge of an embankment and was looking out at the view when the embankment began to give way beneath her, creating a landslide effect. Holly couldn't back up quickly enough and she slid down the embankment and into the reservoir, hitting her head and breaking several bones along the way.
Once recovered, Holly decides to sue the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation for her injuries. However, she would likely lose her case because she'd willingly ventured into an area that was specifically marked as unsafe. The state was not responsible for her injuries because she wasn't lawfully permitted to be there and she'd been warned but took the risk anyway.
If your injury happens on property owned by a North Carolina state agency or municipality, you'd file a claim differently from how you'd pursue a lawsuit against a private person or company.
The North Carolina Tort Claims Act waives sovereign immunity, which is a function of law that normally protects governments from lawsuits. However, the Tort Claims Act allows the government to be sued if an agency, officer, or employee is responsible for your injury.
Premises liability actions can include (but aren't limited to):
North Carolina follows a pure contributory negligence system of law, which means a plaintiff can't recover damages if they are partially at fault.
Sometimes, accidents are the fault of 1 person but might have been prevented if another person had acted differently or been more cautious. If the court finds that a plaintiff was liable for any portion of the accident, they cannot recover any damages.
What if someone is injured on your property and you're now in the position of having to defend against a lawsuit?
A property owner or manager can avoid responsibility in a premises liability action if they can prove one of the following scenarios:
If you have property or casualty insurance, it covers damage to your property (like fire, flood, theft, etc.). If someone sues you for negligence, it might be covered under a liability insurance policy if you have one (you might also be covered under an umbrella policy).
Even if you weren't negligent but someone was injured, your liability insurance might include no-fault coverage for medical payments up to a certain amount.
Probably. If your injury was very minor like a sprained ankle or a bruise that will heal on its own, and you don't have any medical costs, then you likely won't have a claim.
But if your injury was serious enough to warrant medical treatment, if you lost time from work, or if it resulted in pain and suffering, you should call a lawyer.
If you need a lawyer to assist with your premises liability claim, you can use the Enjuris North Carolina law firm directory to find the one who's best suited to your case.
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