Protecting Your Rights Since 1983 Premises Premises Liability Lawyers in Miami

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For those who have been injured while on another person’s property, it is important to understand the facts about premises liability cases. Whether you were injured in a public location, such as a store or restaurant, or on private property, such as someone else’s home, premises liability may apply to your case and allow you to recover damages.

The idea of premises liability, or the liability of an owner for accidents occurring on his or her property, stems from old ideas found in English common law. In the old days, a property owner’s liability for injuries that occurred on the premises was determined by whether the injured party was an invitee, a licensee or a trespasser. Today, these definitions have been broadened so that almost anyone who is on the owner’s property legally has rights under premises liability law to collect damages for injuries.

What Is Premises Liability?

Strictly speaking, premises liability means that the owner is responsible for torts that occur on real property. Any hazardous conditions that exist or are created on the property are the responsibility of the owner if he or she knew or should have known that a danger existed.

In order for premises liability to apply, three conditions must be met:

  • The owner must be in possession of the premises.
  • The victim must have been on the premises legally. However, the definition of who has legal access to the property was vastly broadened in the California case of Rowland v. Christian. Today, almost anyone who is not on the property illegally is covered under premises liability law, not just those whom the owner has actively invited.
  • There must be evidence that the owner was negligent through committing some wrongful act or by a breach of the duty of care a reasonable person would assume. This means that an owner will probably not be liable for random occurrences but will be liable if it is clear that he or she should have known danger existed.

The attorneys at Bernstein & Maryanoff in Miami are here to help victims who have been injured on someone else’s property. The victims in these cases may suffer physical trauma requiring medical treatment, pain, emotional suffering and lost wages. All of these costs may be collected through a personal injury suit. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you win your case.

Duties Owed By Property Owners And Possessors

In many states, property owners and possessors owe different degrees of responsibility, or duties, to people who come onto their property, depending on how such people are categorized. The law recognizes three main categories of people who might be on someone else’s property: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. In states that still distinguish among these categories of people, the legal duty owed to each category is different. It is important to ask an attorney whether these categories and standards of care apply in your state.

Invitees An invitee is a person who is invited onto the property for business reasons and would include customers of a retail store and job applicants. Property owners owe the highest degree of care to invitees to make sure they are safe from dangers on their property. Under this standard, a property owner not only has a duty to repair and correct known dangers, he also has a duty to reasonably inspect for, discover, and correct unknown hazards in those areas of the premises to which an invitee might have access.

These obligations might simply mean that the property owner or possessor (a business occupying the property) has a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that the environment is safe for patrons. While there is no precise way to measure what is reasonable, the law defines “reasonable” as what a person of ordinary intelligence and judgment would do under the same circumstances. If a premises liability case goes to trial, it is left up to a jury to decide what is reasonable under the circumstances.

By way of example, it might be reasonable to expect a business owner to conduct regular inspections, maintenance, and clean stairwells in his/her property to make sure they are safe. However, it would probably be considered unreasonable to expect a business owner to keep watch all day long to make sure nothing is spilled or broken in the stairwells. Licensees A licensee is someone allowed on premises for social purposes, or for solely their own purposes. Property owners are required to ensure that conditions are safe for licensees, but the level of care owed licensees is lower than that owed to invitees. A property owner is only required to take reasonable care to protect licensees from any known hazards on the property and does not have a duty to inspect for and discover unknown dangers, as he/she does with invitees.

A property owner or a person in possession of the property has legal responsibility for the safety of the premises. These responsibilities vary from state to state. They may even vary by the type of person on the property. An attorney who is knowledgeable about the law of premises liability can advise you regarding the property owner’s responsibilities under the law of your state.

The condition of the Property

In many states, the property owner or another person in possession of the property, such as a tenant, must exercise reasonable care to make the premises safe for anyone on the premises lawfully, including social guests, customers, etc. This usually means that the property owner has the duty to inspect the property periodically, and either to repair dangerous conditions or to issue adequate warnings of the dangerous conditions.

The frequency of the inspections, as well as the decision whether to repair or merely post a warning, will depend on a number of factors. For example, a property owner probably will be required to make more frequent inspections of a building lobby that has visitors entering and leaving fairly constantly than of an interior room with restricted admission and little use. Similarly, it is likely that an exercise of reasonable care would require a property owner to replace burned-out light bulbs in a dark stairway, while a sign that draws attention to a slight incline may be sufficient for a well-lit hallway. The determination of whether a property owner’s efforts are reasonable will depend upon all of the circumstances surrounding the use and nature of the property.

Status of People on the Property

In some states, a property owner has different duties to keep property safe depending on the status of the person visiting the property. If a person is an invitee, he or she is on the property for the benefit of the owner of the property, such as a customer in a retail store. Property owners owe the highest duty of care to invitees and must take reasonable steps to ensure their safety. A licensee is on the property as a social guest or as someone there for his or her own purposes, such as a salesperson or solicitor.

A property owner has the duty to warn a licensee of known dangerous conditions, but has no duty to make an inspection of the property. It is sometimes said that a licensee uses the property in the same condition as the owner uses it. A person on the property unlawfully is a trespasser, and the only legal duty owed is to refrain from actively creating conditions that would injure the trespasser. An exception to this in most states is a child trespasser, to whom the landowner also owes a heightened duty of protection because of a child’s particular vulnerability to an attractive nuisance.

In some states, the trend is to do away with the distinction between licensees and invitees, and consider only whether the person is on the property lawfully or unlawfully.

Trespassers

A trespasser is someone who is not authorized to be on the property at issue. Landowners are not obligated to protect trespassers who enter their property without permission, but they cannot willfully injure them. Also, if an owner knows, or should know, that there are frequent trespassers on his/her property, he will be liable for their injuries caused by an unsafe condition on the property if: 1) the condition is one the owner created or maintained; 2) the condition was likely to cause death or serious bodily harm; 3) the condition was such that the owner had reason to believe trespassers would not discover it; and, 4) the owner failed to exercise reasonable care to warn trespassers of the condition and the risk presented.

Trespassing children

A different rule applies where trespassing children are involved. In the case of children who wander onto a property without authorization, property owners do have a duty to ensure that their property is safe. The logic behind this exception is that children are sometimes naïve to dangers on property, and could in fact be lured to investigate dangerous conditions such as a swimming pool, an abandoned well, or heavy machinery. These potential hazards are referred to as “attractive nuisances.” Thus, a property owner has a duty to inspect his/her property to see if there are any potentially dangerous conditions that might attract children and, if there are, act immediately to correct the unsafe condition(s). A property owner may be liable for an injury to a trespassing child if he/she knew, or should have known, young children were likely to trespass in the area of a dangerous condition on the property that involved an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to children, of which risk young children would not be aware, and the utility of the condition is small compared to the risk to trespassing children.

Bad Tenants and the Landlord’s Responsibilities

Landlords are obligated to provide their tenants with reasonably safe places to live. In many states, this duty includes installing smoke alarms and sprinklers for fire protection, and peepholes and locks for security. What about protection from other tenants? Unlike the trespasser or intruder, the bad tenant who disturbs or endangers other tenants has some legal right to be on the property, creating a hazier legal question. An attorney with experience in landlord-tenant law can advise you about your state’s law on this subject.

Lease Requirements

Most written leases of property require tenants to refrain from disturbing other tenants. Some state laws also require tenants to conduct themselves in a manner that will not bother other tenants. It is the landlord’s responsibility to enforce this type of lease provision, since the landlord controls who rents property from him or her. A tenant who consistently disturbs other tenants may be in violation of his or her lease and of state law and the landlord should look at evicting him or her from the property.

Landlords may also include provisions in their lease agreements that explicitly prohibit tenants from engaging in illegal activities. If there is such a provision and a tenant violates it, the landlord should move quickly to evict the offending tenant.

Foreseeability

Landlords may be liable to tenants for bad acts of other tenants if those bad acts were reasonably foreseeable. In other words, if the landlord knew or should have known that a tenant might harm another tenant, the landlord may be liable if he or she did not take actions to protect the injured tenant.

Special Relationship

What does “reasonably foreseeable” mean? It is, of course, impossible to predict anyone’s future behavior, but there are steps a landlord may easily take to screen potential tenants. We live in an age in which it is very easy to find out information about almost anyone, so finding out if a potential tenant may pose problems for other tenants is no more difficult than the credit and rental history background checks many landlords do as a matter of routine. Note that state or local law in your community may not allow a landlord to refuse to rent to someone on the basis of that person’s criminal record.

A “clean” result on a background check does not necessarily mean that it is not foreseeable that a tenant may cause problems. There are clues that may be apparent after a tenant moves in that make it foreseeable that a tenant will disturb or endanger other tenants. Some of these clues are:

  • Persistent, excessive noise
  • Numerous police calls
  • Heavy traffic in and out of the rented premises
  • Broken or missing security items, such as locks or alarms, in and around the leased premises

A landlord should act quickly when he or she learns of anything that makes it foreseeable that a tenant may harm or disturb other tenants.

Liability to the Public

In some cities or states, a landlord may be liable to the public at large for criminal acts committed by tenants on the landlord’s property. Penalties may range form monetary fines to revocation of a landlord’s license, or even condemnation of the property in extreme cases.

A landlord needs to keep a close watch on his or her property to avoid liability. The days of the truly absentee landlord are over in communities that make a landlord accountable for his or her properties. Careful screening of potential tenants, along with swift action to remove problem tenants, should help a landlord to avoid liability for tenants’ bad acts.

Toxic Substances on the Property

Toxic substances may include numerous things, including some you may not think of as particularly hazardous or some that were not regarded as dangerous when they were used. Examples include such common products as asbestos shingles or insulation, lead-based paint, or fluids drained from motor vehicles. The law regarding premises liability for toxic substances is very complex and to ensure that you receive the most accurate and current advice, you should consult an experienced attorney.

Disclosure

In most states, if you are selling or leasing residential real estate, you must disclose the existence of known hazardous substances on the property. Federal law requires the disclosure of lead hazards, such as lead plumbing or lead-based paint. State or local laws may require disclosure of other dangerous substances, such as asbestos.

Penalties for failure to disclose vary, but may be substantial. Failure to disclose the known presence of a lead hazard, for example, may subject a seller to a civil penalty of triple the amount of damages suffered by the buyer.

Liability

The common law in many states provides that a person who stores a hazardous or toxic substance on his or her property is strictly liable for damage caused by the release of that substance, even if mistaken or unintentional. This rule applies to property owners who intentionally store or accumulate toxic materials, regardless of how careful the owners were in storing the substance.

Federal law and laws enacted in many states provide that a property owner or a person in possession of property, such as a tenant, may be liable for the costs of cleaning up hazardous waste disposed of on the property. The land owner may be held liable for all of the costs of the cleanup, even if he or she was not responsible for all of the waste disposed of on the site. A former owner or occupant of property may also be held liable even though he or she no longer owns or is in possession of the property.

The definition of “hazardous waste” can vary between federal law and state law. In some states, used oil drained from a motor vehicle crankcase is considered hazardous waste, so a property owner could be liable if he or she disposed of small amounts of used oil by dumping it on the ground. State and federal environmental agencies publish lists of substances officially regarded as hazardous waste and those lists will tell a property owner or occupant if he or she may be potentially liable for hazardous wastes on the property.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

Related:

Criminal Acts by Third Parties

Governmental Immunity in Premises Liability Cases

Premises Liability FAQs

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