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Premises Liability Personal Injury Claims: What is the Landowner’s Responsibility?

People often believe that if you are hurt on someone’s property, the property owner will be held liable for the conditions that caused the injury. However, in order to have a successful personal injury claim you must prove that the landowner was negligent in some way. The landowner could be negligent if  1) they were aware of a hidden defect or danger in areas where people were likely to go and 2) failed to address the situation either by correcting the problem or warning visitors. The law favors the landowner over the individual in premises liability cases and you will need to prove a higher level of negligence than for other personal injury claims.

The amount of responsibility on the part of the landowner depends upon the status of the visitor. If the owner invites someone onto their property, the owner is expected to make a reasonable effort to inspect the property to identify dangerous conditions and then to either correct the dangerous conditions or to warn visitors about them. If a landowner alerts invitees or posts signs identifying a potentially dangerous situation, then they will generally not be held liable for injuries resulting from these dangers.

Landowners have much less responsibility for the safety of an uninvited person, or a trespasser. If a person climbs over a fence and enters someone’s property, falls into a hole, and breaks their leg, the injured person would only be able to sue the landowner if they could prove “gross negligence.”  Gross negligence is “willful and wanton disregard” for people’s safety – so the landowner would almost need to purposefully create a dangerous situation for this to apply—i.e setting traps on the property.

If you allow someone to come onto your property for hunting, they would be considered a “licensee” unless they were paying to hunt, in which case they would be an “invitee.” The difference is that the landowner would need to make a reasonable effort to inspect the property for dangers in the case of an invitee, but would not be required to inspect for a licensee.

The general idea here is that if the landowner is considered a host or is receiving benefit from the victim’s entry onto the land, the landowner will be held to a higher standard of care. Whereas if the landowner is unaware that the person is on their property, or even worse trespassing, the landowner is held to a minimal standard of care.

Thomas Alonzo

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