Premises Liability: Who Is Liable?

Did you know that in California if you are injured on someone else’s property, that person might be legally responsible for your injury?  Known as ‘premises liability,’ California law mandates that property owners maintain a safe environment for guests and visitors—and allows injury victims to sue property owners when accidents occur due to owner negligence.  More specifically, California law applies the following standard:

“A person who [owns/leases/occupies/controls] property is negligent if he or she fails to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. A person who [owns/leases/occupies/controls] property must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others” (California Civil Jury Instructions 2017)

Here’s what you need to know about Los Angeles premises liability.

Who Controls the Property?

Premises liability does not apply only to formal property owners.  In fact, whoever can be shown to have ‘control’ over the property is considered liable for injuries on the site.  In cases of property owners or lessees (individuals or groups who have a formal lease agreement with the property owner), who controls the property should be a matter of legal record.  However, in cases where who controls the property is less clear, the injury victim will have to determine who else has control over the property in order to determine who to file a lawsuit against, and provide evidence for this determination at trial.

In cases involving disputes between landlords and tenants, the landlord has premises liability (although the tenant must apply the standard of reasonable care, detailed in the next section).

Premises liability protections extend to employees injured at work, children injured at schools, and virtually any situation involving injury while on a property not your own.

The Standard of ‘Reasonable Care’

A key concept to parse is the legal standard of ‘reasonable care.’  When deciding whether a defendant showed reasonable care in the maintenance of their property, juries will consider one or more of the following:

  • The location of the property
  • The likelihood that someone else would come to the property in the same manner that the injury victim did (in other words, how accessible is the property)
  • The likelihood of harm
  • The probable seriousness of that harm
  • Whether the property owner knew or should have known of the condition that created the risk of harm
  • The difficulty in protecting the risk of harm
  • The extent of the property owner’s control over the condition that created the risk of harm
  • Other relevant factors, depending on the facts of the case

So, for example, a premises liability lawsuit involving a victim who slipped on a dish detergent spill that a manager was previously made aware of in a grocery store would be an easier case to bring than one involving a victim who was inebriated, fell down and broke their leg while trespassing on private property late at night.  (However, both lawsuits could be valid, depending on the facts of the case).

Crucially, as demonstrated in the second example above, while the property owner or occupier of the property must show ‘reasonable care’ in maintaining a safe environment, the injured party must also show ‘reasonable care’ in their conduct.  In other words, if you are injured on someone else’s property because of your own recklessness, it will more difficult to file a successful lawsuit.

California law used to make distinctions between different property entrants—so, for example, whether the injury victim was a ‘invitee,’ ‘licensee,’ or ‘trespasser’ was taken into consideration when determining the extent of the property owner’s liability (in the case of the latter, the property was never liable for their injuries).  However, statutory changes have done away with this strict distinction, allowing even trespassers to sue for premises liability.

Contact a Premises Liability Lawyer

An experienced premises liability lawyer will be able to guide you through the process of filing a successful lawsuit and maximizing your damages.  At The Dominguez Firm, we have assisted hundreds of clients in the Greater Los Angeles areas to successfully sue businesses and irresponsible property owners for serious injuries they suffered on their properties, on a No Recovery, No Fee basis!  Call today about your case for a Free Consultation at (800) 818-1818.

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