When we set foot on someone else’s property, we trust that the owner has taken reasonable steps to make it safe. For instance, we expect that the owner of a clothing store would not let us inside if they knew that the floor was in danger of collapsing. We expect that they would repair the safety hazard.
New York state law imposes a legal duty on landlords to make these repairs. When they breach this duty, and someone else is injured as a result, they may be held liable for the injured person’s damages. The legal theory behind this idea is known as premises liability, and it is a crucial way for the injured and their families to recover compensation after an accident. It’s also an important way to encourage landowners to exercise care.
A landowner’s duty
Like most personal injury lawsuits, premises liability lawsuits operate under the theory of negligence. This theory holds that people owe a certain duty of care to others to avoid the risks of hurting them in an accident. For instance, a driver owes a duty to others on the road to minimize the risk of a collision that might injure other people.
For the purpose of premises liability cases, the landowner’s duty extends to anyone who might legally enter their property. If the landowner has invited the person onto the property as a guest, a customer or in some other capacity, the landowner has a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize the risk of a foreseeable accident. In some cases, this duty applies even to trespassers.
This does not mean that the landowner is automatically responsible for any accident that happens on their property, nor does it mean landowners must go to extraordinary lengths to protect people who come to their property from any possible accident. It just means they must take the same steps that any reasonable landowner would take in the same circumstances to avoid the possibility of a foreseeable accident.
Some of the most common premises liability cases involve a person who was badly injured when they slipped on a spill at a grocery store or restaurant. One of the central questions of these so-called slip-and-fall accidents is whether the landowner breached their duty by not cleaning up the spill before a customer could fall and be injured.
If the court finds that the spill happened just seconds before the spill, it might decide the landowner could not be reasonably expected to clean up the spill in time. But if the injured person can show that a reasonable store owner would have cleaned up the spill before anyone was hurt, the court will likely decide the owner should be held liable for the injured person’s damages.
Damages can include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and more. Anyone who has ever been in an accident knows how quickly the costs can pile up, and how a serious injury can be life-changing. A personal injury lawsuit can be an essential way for the injured and their families to cope with these costs and the changes that come with an injury.