Can you hold a property owner liable if you were injured in an attack by someone while you were on their property? This is a difficult question in personal injury law, and it is the question behind a recent lawsuit in which a former student claims that a North Carolina high school failed to protect her from sexual assault.
Premises liability basics
The law of premises liability is based on the idea that property owners have a duty to remove known safety hazards so as to avoid the risk of injury to their visitors. If they breach this duty, and a visitor is injured as a result, the visitor may hold the property owner liable for their damages.
In a textbook example of a premises liability case, a customer at a retail store slips and falls on a spill or other hazard and is injured. The customer claims that the property owner was negligent by failing to repair the hazard, and therefore should be held liable for their damages.
In some cases, property owners may be held liable after a visitor has been injured due to the criminal actions of a third party if they occurred on the premises. In these cases, the plaintiff must show that the property owner knew that criminal actions on the premises presented a safety hazard.
For instance, if a store owner knows that several customers have been mugged and beaten in the store’s parking lot, a court might conclude that the owner had a duty to protect customers by installing lights or hiring a security guard.
High school case
In the recent North Carolina case, a former student says she was raped by another student in a high school bathroom. She argues that the school should be held liable because school officials were aware that she was frequently harassed and groped by other students, but did little or nothing to protect her. The school district has moved to dismiss the former student’s claims.
Premises liability can be an extraordinarily complex area of the law, and the facts of each case are unique. If you have been injured while on someone else’s property, an attorney with experience in premises liability can walk you through how the law may apply to the facts of your case.