Most homeowners know that they might be legally liable for failing to remove ice from their sidewalk if it causes one to slip and fall. What is the basis for this legal concept, and what should both injury victims and premises owners know to help their legal situations?
In actuality, the obligation to keep one’s domain free from defects which might cause injury goes all the way back to the times of the Bible (see Exodus 21:28). While some may consider it unfair to be subject to suit, the law focuses on the likelihood that a premises owner will have greater knowledge of the premises and be in a better position to prevent loss, damage or injury.
The umbrella term “premises” can encompass land ownership, businesses and even rental properties. While the scope of liability is different in each case, the “premise” of premises liability is the same: If you are in the position to anticipate a problem and fail to use reasonable efforts to mitigate the problem, then you are responsible for injuries and damages which result.
All of us at one time or another may fall into the category of a premises owner or occupier, so it behooves us to anticipate problems. Is there water on the floor? Did I shovel my walkway? Do I have a dangerous animal which may attack someone? Do I have short circuited electrical wires which may shock the electrician? Does my rental property’s furnace vent leak dangerous carbon monoxide gases? Does my bar or restaurant attract unruly crowds which might lead to fights and other injuries? If the answer is yes, of course, you might be responsible to mitigate the defect, i.e. take reasonable efforts to minimize the danger. The law does not expect extraordinary efforts or premises, which are absolutely free of any possible danger.
Therefore, contrary to popular opinion, not every injury on anyone’s property is going to lead to a valid lawsuit. An experienced personal injury attorney will carefully consider all aspects of the injury, including whether the injuries are serious enough to warrant legal action. We find in our practice that this sometimes occurs even when the possibility of a legal case is not obvious to the injury victim or the premises owner.
To be on the safe side, if you have sustained injures and believe there is any possibility that the injuries are tied to the premises or poor maintenance, it is best to review the matter with a competent personal injury attorney. We can usually tell you quickly whether there is any possibility for a claim. Even if a claim is never brought, you may just feel better knowing that you reviewed the matter first before deciding not to proceed.