If popular culture is to be believed in full, all you have to do to win a lawsuit is slip on a wet floor and claim the owner’s at fault.
However, real-life premises liability cases aren’t nearly as black and white. Several factors influence whether the object or area causing the slip is, in fact, a hazard, what the owner’s and injured party’s responsibilities are, and the defined duties and obligations each have to each other.
What’s a Hazard?
A wet floor or an object a person trips over might seem like hazards at face value, but lawyers consider several factors when reviewing a claim:
• Is it something you’d expect to find there, such as grates on a floor?
• Did the property owner cause the hazard?
• Did the owner, after knowing about the danger, do nothing about it?
• Was the hazard there long enough for the owner to know about it?
• Does the property have regular procedures for examining, maintaining, and repairing the premises, and is there proof that the steps are regularly conducted and followed?
• Could the hazard have been removed, recovered, made safer, or moved to another location?
• Were barriers or another warning used to alert others to the hazard?
• Was the hazard less visible because of poor lighting conditions?
Was The Injured Behaving Carelessly?
In nearly all cases, the injured party’s behavior is examined. Specifically, lawyers determine if he or she had been behaving carelessly on the property, be it running, not using standard judgment, and not adequately paying attention to his or her surroundings. If warnings are present, the hazard is in a difficult-to-access place, or if the injury stems from tripping over an object you’d expect to find on such a premise, such as tripping or stepping into floor grates used for draining, the plaintiff bears a greater portion of responsibility.
Responsibility to Each Other
In slip and fall cases, many states require lawyers to determine who is the Invitee, the Licensee, or the Trespasser, as the owner’s responsibility varies with each.
Invitee: In this relationship, the owner invites an individual onto his or her premises. As the relationship directly benefits the owner, such as when a customer enters a store, a great deal of responsibility and care is expected toward the Invitee, including reasonably maintaining and repairing the property.
If the injury stems from a lack of maintenance or repair, the owner is directly responsible for the Invitee’s condition. If the property is well maintained and up to date on repairs and an injury still occurs, the owner bears no responsibility.
Licensee: This individual is permitted on the property but not invited; family and party guests frequently fall within this grouping. An owner, in this relationship, allowed the Licensee onto the premises but owes a lesser degree of responsibility: Warnings are expected, but maintenance is on a lesser level. Complications, however, arise when activities on the property injure the Licensee.
Trespassee: The owner owes a Trespassee no degree of responsibility, save for not intentionally injuring the individual in any situation other than self defense. However, while this appears clear-cut, it is less so when children trespass on a property and end up injured.
As well, the three relationships stated above seldom remain concrete and, depending upon the actions and situation, may change.