When someone enters your home or a property that you own, they almost always assume that it is safe to do so. This is a pretty reasonable assumption; your guests are not going to stop and ask about any potential hazards before they knock on your door. Your obligation to provide a relatively safe environment for visitors falls under what we refer to as "premises liability". As you may have guessed, this area of the law is extremely broad. After all, any number of things could happen on your property.
"Slip and Fall" Accidents in Commercial Establishments
Perhaps the most notorious type of premises liability lawsuits are of the "slip and fall" variety. We've all heard the story a million times, but as an example, say someone slips in the grocery store as a result of a spill was never wiped up. Were the grocery store staff alerted that there was a spill? Did management place a "wet floor" sign at the site of the incident that went ignored by the victim? Essentially, this will boil down to what measures were taken to rectify the situation and whether or not the victim acted reasonably.
Although these cases have become the subject of more than a few jokes, there is a very real concern with this. Shop owners and managers have a duty of care to the customers who enter their stores. You shouldn't have to worry about suffering some sort of injury every time you go shopping. It's expected that these people are doing whatever they can to maintain a safe environment for you, their patrons.
Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters
A similar duty of care exists on rental properties. When you pay to live in an apartment or other rental home, it should be safe for you and your family. This obligation is generally well understood by all parties, but should also be expressly stated in your lease agreement. In most cases, landlords will be solely responsible for the property they own. However, there are some cases where they will attempt to mitigate their own duties and responsibilities by hiring a property manager or property management firm.
In cases that involve property managers, there is a pretty complex dynamic at play. Property managers are liable to both the landlord and the renter. The possibilities here are limitless. The most obvious example would be if the property manager knows of a potential hazard, but fails to address it or notify the landlord, you wouldn't sue the landlord. The property manager would be the one who neglected his or her duty of care.
Another fact about rental properties that is often forgotten is that as a renter, you may also be liable for certain aspects of the premises. Particularly, your own rental unit should be maintained reasonably well while you're living there. If your guests enter and are injured due to your own neglect, you will be held liable (not your landlord).
Did you know that businesses are required to take certain security measures to protect you? If a business knows that its customers are at risk of falling victim to a violent crime, they should take extra precautions, such as hiring security guards, installing security cameras, securing entrances and exits, or anything else it takes to keep you safe. If you are robbed or assaulted in a public establishment with poor security, the business owner may be at fault.
A good example of this is a case that was litigated by Coxwell & Associated involving Martez Smith and the Remington Hunt Club in Hattiesburg, MS. Mr. Smith suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of being shot on the club's property. The allegations were that the club had hired security guards with no training and provided them with no procedural guidelines to follow. Background checks were not performed on prospective employees, and as a result, many of the club's staff members were involved in gang-related activity. All of this, along with the fact that similar criminal activity had occurred at the club in the past, meant that this incident was both foreseeable and preventable. A duty of care had obviously been neglected, and the case was settled.
The Status of Visitors to Your Property
If you are (or will soon be) on either end of a premises liability lawsuit, you should understand that a property's visitors may be classified in a few different ways. If you have invited a person into your home, we say this person is an invitee. The term invitee also applied to customers in a business; they may not have received a formal invitation, but their presence was both welcome and expected.
If someone enters your property for their own purpose, and you don't mind their presence, you may refer to this as a licensee. Examples of licensees may include a mail courier or delivery driver. Another term, social guest, is quite similar to a licensee. A social guest is a welcome (but unexpected) visitor who has come for mutual personal reasons.
Trespassers are the only category that would truly be considered unwelcome. These are people who have entered your property without any right to do so, and it's also worth mentioning that trespassing is illegal.
Licensees and trespassers take their personal safety into their own hands when they enter your property. You have made no promises to them, and there is no reason for them to assume that the premises has been made safe for their entry.
As you can see, these cases can be quite complex. If you are on either side of this situation, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible about the details of your individual case. Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation. Let us handle all of the complexities of determining liability, while you focus on getting well and getting back to doing the things that you enjoy most.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.
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