Are you responsible if someone is injured on your property? Some legal theories maintain that property owners – whether at the property or not – are responsible for activities that take place on the property. Depending on the statutes in the jurisdiction where the accident took place, an owner’s liability for an accident occurring on his or her property varies. Some courts consider who the injured party was – invited to the property, a guest to the property, a licensee of the property, or a trespasser – while others are more interested in the property’s condition or the activities of the visitor and owner. Renters can be held liable in the same manner as the property owner.
Where the injured party’s status is the major consideration, the injured party will fall into one of four categories: an invited party, a guest, a licensee, or a trespasser. An invited party is someone who is invited to the property, including a store’s customers, and generally assumes that the property owner or tenant has made practical efforts to protect the safety of invitees. A licensee or guest is someone who has permission to be on the property for his or her own purposes. Trespassers are those who are at the property without permission and without a right to be on the property. For anyone other than invitee, there is no implication that the property owner assures the safety of the property. For the most part, the court is concerned with the legal status of the injured party: whether the person was supposed to be on the property or not.
Where the condition of the property or the activities of the owner/tenant and guests are of interest, an assumption of reasonable care for safety is always in place, unless the injured party was trespassing. To comply with this, an owner must regularly inspect the property and make efforts to maintain or repair problems or post warnings if needed where repairs are not possible or haven’t been completed yet. If an owner knows about a dangerous condition and does not post warnings or repair the situation and someone is injured because of that, then the owner can be held liable. Whether this care has been observed or not is determined by a few factors, including why and how the visitor came to be on the property, what the property was being used for, knowledge that an injury could happen because of a certain condition of the property, efforts to repair and/or maintain the property and problems on the property or post warnings, and whether the injured party was trespassing.
If a property’s owner knows that trespassers have been on the property and still come to the property, the owner may have a duty to post warnings about potential dangers on the property. This is usually only when the landowner has created or maintained conditions where there is a likelihood that someone could get hurt or killed. If the conditions are obvious, however, the owner may not need to post warnings about potential dangers.
If the trespassers are children, the owner has a duty to warn of dangerous situations and/or conditions on the property. If the owner or tenant knows or ought to know that there is a possibility that children will trespass on the property, and that there is a condition on the property that could cause harm, the owner must post warnings about the potential hazards.
A common restraint regarding a property owner’s liability for an injury is that the injured party is partially at fault for the accident. This assumes that the visitor to the property has a duty to use due care and for his or her own safety and actions, and has some responsibility for injuries possibly sustained in the course of his or her actions. Where a lack of personal responsibility for one’s own safety can be proven, the damages recovered by the injured party are reduced by some amount equivalent to the amount which the injured party is found to be responsible for the injury. For example, if an injured party is found to be 30% responsible for the injury he or she sustained, then the awarded damages would be reduced by 30%.
Landlords & Leaseholders
Leaseholders and landlords have special rules that apply to liability. It is generally accepted that landlords and leaseholders cannot be held liable for injuries sustained on properties that are leased or rented to other parties, as it is assumed that the landlord or leaseholder has no control over activities taking place on the property. However, there are notable exceptions to this rule. A leaseholder or landlord can be held liable if a dangerous condition existed prior to the residents living on the property and if the landlord knew – or should have known – about the problem before the renters moved in. These dangerous conditions are known as “latent defects,” and can be either a natural condition of the property or artificial (that is, created at some point by the landowner or landlord). Another exception is if the landlord makes the property open to the public or if the landlord has control of activities on the property. If a landlord or leaseholder agrees to make repairs, those repairs must be completed without negligence.
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