Premises Liability Lawsuits in Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, & Chesapeake
Premises liability refers to the laws that hold property owners responsible for keeping their properties safe for those who enter their property. Under premises liability laws in Virginia, property owners have a duty to keep their properties safe by warning of dangerous conditions that might cause someone to slip, trip or fall and suffer injury. Premises liability cases are not limited to a property owner’s duty to warn of hazardous or dangerous conditions. For example, a premises liability claim can be brought in Virginia if property owners fail to provide adequate security and that failure leads to bodily harm.
Premises liability injuries can occur as a result of many different things such as torn carpets, slippery floors, icy parking lots or uneven floors. They can occur in many different settings such as hospitals, workplaces, retail stores, shopping malls or parking garages. Regardless of the location, if you have been injured as a result of a property owner’s failure to meet their legal duty under Virginia premises liability law, we can help.
What is Premises Liability?
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.
Who is Responsible?
A common misconception is that the occurrence of an injury automatically results in a claim against the premises owner. In fact, Virginia law frequently makes it difficult to recover from a premises owner. Both the common law and more recent adoptions of Virginia case decisions dramatically restrict what injury victims may sue what types of premises owners.
While the final analysis should be left to an attorney experienced in premises liability law, the following areas have, in the past, led to valid personal injury claims:
Injuries at Retail Premises. Retailers, restaurants, convenience stores, etc. have a high duty to assure that their premises are safe and free from debris and slippery spots.
Entertainment Venues and Work Place Violence. The combination of emotions, bad feelings and intoxication can lead to trouble at work and in entertainment venues. Previous blogs have discussed fairs and theme parks and their duty to provide a safe place for their customers. Our Virginia Personal Injury law firm, has, in the past, also focused on acts of extreme violence which sometimes seem unpredictable but can have devastating consequences. Frequently, in the discovery part of litigation (and asking the right questions), counsel can determine that an act of violence was predictable and preventable.
Falling Merchandise. Premises owners have a duty to secure (especially heavy) merchandise. The risk of potentially devastating injuries from falling merchandise have been well-documented in the past.
Homeowner’s Claims. Homeowners have an especially high duty to their guests to make their homes free of dangerous conditions. Even a dangerous pet may violate this rule and impose liability on the owner if the pet causes injury.
Landlord-Tenant Situations. Virginia law limits recovery of a tenant against a landlord, but not in every case. In similar such matters, our firm has found exceptions within the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act, subcontractors or property managers who may be sued for shoddy repairs.
The above scenarios and many others demonstrate that, in the case of serious injury, it is never possible to say that a victim is without rights right after the accident. The circumstances require a close examination of the cause, detailed research and access to public records. Frequently, litigation leads to formal discovery where it is determined that a seemingly random incident was predictable and preventable. In that case, it is quite possible and appropriate for the injury victim to pursue just compensation.
What Business Owners Should Know About Premises Liability
Do you want the good news or the bad news first?
To business owners, the world can sometimes seem like one big lawsuit waiting to happen. Business owners (and their insurance carriers) looking for consolation may not find it in the area of tort law.
The law is rather ambiguous on many important points. In fact, the term “premises liability” says a lot. The term implies that liability may be imposed simply because an injury victim was hurt on your premises. In addition, many business owners are familiar with the fact that being a business can actually increase the exposure. Since the injury victim may be in a special category as a “business invitee,” the premises owner may have a higher duty to protect.
The good news is that the term “premises liability” is somewhat misleading. Business owners are not liable for “positional risks,” i.e. simply because of where the accident happened. Under Virginia law, the analysis is fault-based. Lawyers and insurance companies ask questions beyond simply where the accident occurred. Was the hazard open and obvious? Was it preventable? Were there warnings? Were the warnings reasonably calculated to prevent the accident? These are the kinds of questions that must be analyzed before an assessment of liability can be made.
This is why we now call this field “risk management.” Risk management does not simply look at black and white questions like liability. It understands that risks are always present and lawsuits can always be filed. The more important question is how to manage risk.
Insurance carriers and their underwriters frequently have programs which offer to inspect business premises to limit risk. Experts like fire cause and origin engineers, have building code experts and slip and fall consultants may be engaged free of charge to do an inspection.
While the risk of a lawsuit can never be entirely eliminated, with ordinary care and expert consultation, the possibility of an injury and catastrophic lawsuit can be carefully managed.
Contact A Premises Liability Attorney Today!
In every case, our client (you) comes first. We believe that helping you receive the compensation you deserve is only part of what we do as a personal injury law firm. Our entire team is dedicated to helping you get your life back after a serious accident.
Contact us today for a free consultation by clicking here to start a live chat, or filling out the “Do I Have A Case?” form.
The Jeff Brooke Team has offices in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Portsmouth. Our firm is devoted to providing the highest level of personal service, and professional legal counsel to those who have been injured. We are dedicated to helping those who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries as a result of someone else’s negligent, and careless actions. Speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer today.