Premises liability cases and lawsuits can be complicated to litigate and can result in enormous awards for damages. Whether you’re a private homeowner or a business owner, there are several things you should keep watch for to avoid finding yourself facing steep claims.
What Are Some Potential Hazards That Could Cause a Premises Liability Case?
There are many conditions that can lead to a premises liability case. Property owners should be watchful for anything that could cause an injury, no matter how minor.
These are a few examples of typical premises liability issues that can cause injuries:
- Inadequate or burned-out lighting. If people can’t see where they’re going, they’re more likely to stumble and fall. This also applies to parking lots for businesses, not just for someone falling, but for someone being assaulted in the parking lot if it’s dark and hard to see.
- Stairways in poor condition or lack railings. The state of Washington has specific requirements for stairways, including hand railings. If the stairway in question doesn’t meet the requirements and someone falls, that can lead to claims and lawsuits.
- Poorly maintained sidewalks. Cracked, uneven sidewalks are a tripping hazard. If winter weather brings snow or ice, clearing the sidewalks and taking steps to mitigate ice should be done as soon as possible.
- Rugs and carpets. If these are torn or have edges curling up, they can cause people to trip.
- Wet or sticky floors. This is especially prevalent in food-based businesses.
- Broken elevators or escalators.
- Construction zones not properly marked. If a building is under construction or renovation or is dilapidated to the point of being unsafe, it should be clearly marked as such with “No trespassing” signs.
- Attractive nuisances. This term refers to things that could attract people onto your property, such as swimming pools, water features, playground equipment, etc. Such areas should be fenced off or marked as private property, no trespassing allowed.
- Unrestrained animals. While many people think of premises liability cases as involving slip-and-falls, dogs or other animal bites also fall into this category. Pets should be monitored and under the owner’s control.
What Should Property Owners Do to Avoid Premises Liability Claims?
The law requires property owners to take reasonable care of their property in order to prevent anyone from being injured. How “reasonable care” is defined and what the threshold is for violation of reasonable care can make for a complicated case. If you’re a property owner and are facing a premises liability claim, it’s highly advisable to work with an experienced premises liability attorney.
Reasonable care isn’t necessarily interpreted to mean that the property owner must compulsively monitor their property’s condition 24/7. But it does mean that they should make an effort to be aware of potential risks and take steps to mitigate them as soon as reasonably possible. Otherwise, someone injured on the property could claim that the owner was negligent and that negligence caused their injuries.
How Is Negligence Proven in Washington State?
There are four aspects to proving negligence in Washington State courts, and all four must be proven for the injured person to successfully win their case.
- The property owner had a duty of care. This means that the owner was responsible for ensuring their property was reasonably safe, including keeping it maintained or informing potential visitors of any risks they face when visiting.
- The property owner breached the duty of care. That means the owner didn’t take reasonable care of the property. An example would be if there was an ice storm and the property’s sidewalks were covered in ice. The owner is expected to make some effort to mitigate that ice within a reasonable period or to warn people that the ice is a risk. If they don’t, they might be found in breach of the duty of care.
- The breach of the duty of care caused someone to be injured. This can be the most challenging part for the injured person to prove. They must demonstrate direct causation between the breach of care and their injuries. In the example above, they might try to claim that the sidewalk ice was not mitigated in a reasonable time frame, nor were they warned about it. Then, they fell and were injured when trying to walk on the ice.
- The injury caused harm. This means the person making the claims suffered physical or monetary harm (out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, etc.) due to the breach of duty.
What Happens if the Injured Person Was Trespassing?
When someone trespasses (which means to enter a property without permission or illegally), the property owner doesn’t owe them a duty of care. The owner would likely have to prove that the person was trespassing at the time of the injury to avoid paying damages. The owner also must not intentionally harm the trespasser. That can include situations such as setting up booby traps to stop trespassers.
What Should I Do if I Am Being Sued for Premises Liability?
If you receive notification that someone is filing damages or a lawsuit against you for premises liability, your first step should be to call Church & Page at 509-638-1414 to request a free consultation. As discussed above, these are complex cases that have a considerable amount of nuance, and every case is unique. We can walk you through your specific situation and provide guidance as to what legal steps you should take.