An Overview of Premises Liability

Whether it’s stepping on a protruding nail, falling down a flight of stairs, or slipping on a patch of ice, every year, countless people become injured while on someone else’s property. Premises liability is the area of law that establishes rules that a property owner or occupier must follow to protect entrants from hazardous conditions, while in their home, apartment, place of business, etc.

The Occupier Was Negligent!

Premises liability cases generally take place under the notion that the defendant (the landowner or occupier) was negligent – meaning their behavior falls below the level of competency expected of them,  To establish negligence, an injured plaintiff must establish…

  • the existence of a duty by the defendant to conform to a specific standard of conduct
  • breach of that duty by the defendant; that this breach was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury
  • that the plaintiff was injured

Landowner/Occupier Duties

According to traditional law theory, the duty of an owner, occupier, or possessor of land to a person who enters the premises and is injured because of the condition of the premises, simply depends on the status of the entrant.  What exactly the landowner or occupier owes to each class of entrant is different.

Types of Entrants

  • invitees – an individual who enters the land in response to an expressed invitation from the landowner
  • licensees – an individual who enters the premises with the landowner’s express or implied permission for his or her own purposes rather than the landowner’s benefit, for instance,  as a social guest.
  • trespassers – an individual who enters onto the property without the owner’s permission.

Rejection of the “Entrant classes”

Many jurisdictions still adhere to the common law status classifications today.  Nevertheless, some jurisdictions have rejected the common law classes of entrants as a main determinative of liability.  Some jurisdictions have adopted a rule that states that an owner or occupier of land has a duty of reasonable care under all circumstances, and the status of the entrant is merely a relevant factor in determining whether the injury was foreseeable and the landowner negligent.  In some states, there are statutes that govern the standard of care owed by certain landowners or occupiers to certain classes of entrants.

Traditionally, the Government is Not Responsible!

One of the most common premises liability situations occurs when someone is injured by a defect on a public sidewalk or roadway. In these cases, it would seem almost obvious that the government entity responsible for maintaining the road or walkway should be held legally responsible for the person’s injuries.  Traditionally speaking, however, the government is immune from responsibility under the “doctrine of sovereign immunity.”

Changes to the Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity

State and the federal government have reduced this immunity of the years though by passing laws that limit or reduce the immunity of government entities in certain situations.  These laws vary from state to state, but most are modeled on the Federal Tort Claims Act – a  federal law that waives the sovereign immunity of the federal government under certain circumstances and allows it to be sued.

If you have further questions about premises liability, or if you’ve actually been injured on someone else’s property, don’t hesitate to contact Bruce A. Hagen, the premier Atlanta injury attorney.  Don’t settle for the other injury attorneys in Atlanta, personal injury is all we do!