May 17, 2024 Michael M. Day Law Firm

What is Premises Liability?

In slip-and-fall cases, building disasters, and situations where someone is assaulted or attacked, you may hear attorneys talk about premises liability. What is it? It’s important for property owners to understand premises liability, as well as anyone who has suffered injuries while they were on someone else’s property.

Premises liability is the legal theory that holds people accountable for injuries that occur on property that is under their control. It can operate differently depending on a variety of factors. While a personal injury attorney can explain how the theory operates in your particular situation, here are some general factors to consider.

Duty of a Property Owner

In a general sense, premises liability requires the owner of property to keep it safe for those invited onto it. It imposes a duty on the owner of the property and also on anyone who is responsible for the condition of the property, such as a store that rents space from the owner of a shopping center.

Section 51-3-1 of the Georgia Code specifies that when an owner or occupier of land “induces or leads others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, he is liable in damages to such persons for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.”

This sets some limits on the duty, and explains the duty to a certain degree, but to fully understand a property owner’s obligations under the premises liability law, it is necessary to consider how this statutory obligation has been interpreted by the courts.

Duty Does Not Apply to Trespassers

One of the first things to notice about the statute is that it says the duty to keep the premises safe applies when the owner encourages others to come onto the property. When a store puts an “open” sign in the window, that is an invitation to shoppers encouraging them to enter the premises, and the owner is expected to keep the premises safe. When the sign says “closed,” and someone breaks in to steal, the same obligation to provide safe premises does not apply because the owner is not encouraging entry, and the intent to steal is not a lawful purpose. The obligation to provide safe premises may be less clear if a salesman tries to enter after hours when the sign says “closed.” The salesman is entering for a lawful purpose, but it is for personal benefit rather than the benefit of the property owner. The care owed to this person would not be as great as the degree of care owed to the shopper invited onto the premises to benefit the property owner by spending money on purchases.

Generally, the only duty owed to someone trespassing on the property is to refrain from “willful and wanton” injuries. Setting booby traps or shooting at intruders could lead to liability unless it can be proven that a trespasser posed a reasonable threat to cause harm to someone on the property.

Attractive Nuisance—the Exception When Trespassers Are Children

Although property owners generally only owe a duty of protection to people they encourage to enter their property, there is an exception to this rule involving children. When there is something on the property that might prove attractive to children and yet also be dangerous, such as a swimming pool, the property owner has a duty to fence off the danger, remove the danger, or protect children from it in some other way. If they fail to do so and a child is injured, even if they are trespassing, the owner can be held liable for injuries or wrongful death.

What Does it Mean to Keep the Premises “Safe?”

Property owners are expected to exercise “ordinary care” to keep the premises “safe.” What is ordinary care? When is something “safe?” The answers all depend on the circumstances. This makes it vital to collect as much evidence as possible regarding the cause of an injury because the smallest details could help establish whether or not the property owner took proper precautions to provide for your safety.

In most cases, a property owner can be held liable when they know of a potentially hazardous condition and don’t take adequate steps to protect people from it. The owner can also be liable for a condition they didn’t know about but would or should have known about if they had conducted regular inspections. This is sometimes referred to as constructive knowledge.  It can be hard to prove that a property owner had actual knowledge of a hazard, but it is not as difficult to demonstrate that a danger existed for long enough that the owner should have known about it, so constructive knowledge is easier to prove.

Dangerous conditions that should be repaired or warned about might include:

  • Uneven spots on the floor
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Missing or poorly secured handrails
  • Loose carpet on stairs
  • Faulty wiring

For instance, a store manager might be expected to have an employee check the aisles regularly for spills, and when a spill occurs, block off the area with a barricade or cones until the spill can be cleaned up.

Negligent Security

The duty to keep the premises safe also extends to providing adequate security measures when there is reason to believe people on the property could be at risk from criminal activity in the area. For instance, if there have been attacks or break-ins nearby, the owner should be on notice of criminal activity and should provide measures such as adequate lighting, security cameras, fencing, and gates. When a property owner fails to provide the right level of security for the situation, then premises liability can hold the owner responsible for the criminal actions of others that cause injuries on the property.

Michael M. Day Fights for You When You’ve Been Injured on the Premises of Others

At Michael M. Day Law Firm, LLC, we know how to use the theories of premises liability to recover full and fair compensation for those injured when property owners fail to live up to their responsibilities. If you’ve been hurt in a slip and fall, trip and fall, fire, or dog attack, or other incident because the property owner failed to keep you safe, contact us today for a free consultation to find out what your case could be worth.