Accidents happen. Sometimes people just trip or slip, fall and are seriously injured, and sometimes it’s no one’s fault.
But there are also cases where a property owner’s negligence led to the accident. In these cases, the injured may seek compensation for their damages through a personal injury lawsuit on the basis of premises liability.
What is premises liability?
Premises liability is a legal theory that allows injured people to hold property owners liable after they are injured in a preventable accident while on an owner’s property.
Under North Carolina law, property owners have a duty to keep their premises reasonably safe for visitors, guests, customers and others they expect to set foot on the property. If they fail to do so, and one of these visitors is injured as a result, the injured may hold the property owner liable for their damages.
One key thing to note about premises liability is that the owner can’t be held liable for all accidents that occur on their property. The extent of their duty changes according to the status of the person who is injured. For instance, a store owner has a greater duty to a customer than to a trespasser.
Furthermore, the owner’s duty is to keep the premises reasonably safe so as to reduce the risk of foreseeable accidents. This means they can be held liable only for safety hazards they knew about or should have known about, such as a spill.
It’s also important to remember that visitors also have a duty to take reasonable care so as to avoid injuring themselves. If a court finds that their injury was caused by their own carelessness, they may not be able to recover compensation from the property owner.
A typical scenario
The concept of premises liability can come up in personal injury lawsuits involving a wide variety of accidents, but a common scenario involves a customer who slips on a spill at a supermarket. If the customer falls and is injured, they may seek to hold the store owner liable for their damages.
In this type of case, it’s important to ask how long the spill was present before the accident happened. It’s not reasonable to expect the owner to clean up a spill the moment it happens, but if spills are common, the owner should periodically inspect the floors and address problems as soon as they are discovered.
If the injured can show evidence that a spill was on the ground for some time before the accident they can help establish that the owner breached their duty.
For instance, imagine a case where a customer is injured after slipping on melted ice cream. Because ice cream takes a while to melt, one can assume that the hazard was present for a long time. The store owner should have been aware of the problem.
Applying the law to the facts
As you can see from the examples above, premises liability cases can vary greatly depending on their specific details. Attorneys help the injured to understand how the law may apply to the specific facts of their case.