Picture this: you’ve got your baja blast, chicken quesarito, and those delicious cinnabon pastries. You’re ready to start eating but, before you can sit down, you slip and fall in a puddle of hot sauce. Oh, and it’s a bad slip and fall. In fact, you break your arm on the way down. Also, you’ve fallen on the floor at a Taco Bell. Gross. Very emotionally distressing. You’re likely in a lot of pain, and you may be wondering about how you are going to pay the medical bills that are coming. But, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to have all your medical bills paid for by filing a premises liability lawsuit. If that sounds scary, have no fear: we’ll explain it like you’re five.
OKAY, EXPLAIN IT LIKE I’M FIVE
Premises liability is a legal concept, in other words an idea that lawyers talk about. Basically, if you own a property (in other words, a “premises”), you’re responsible–lawyers use the word “liable”–for making sure that there aren’t any dangers on your property. That’s premises liability. Although it sounds simple, it can affect you in very important ways. Here’s an example: your friend comes over to your house and, as they’re walking out of your bathroom, they slip in a puddle of soap that leaked on the floor and they get hurt. Under premises liability, you could be “liable” for what happened to them and forced to pay your friend money. This is because you legally have a duty—think responsibility, or something you should do—to keep your property safe for your guests. Keeping the property safe means removing anything dangerous (known as a “hazard”) that can be removed, and taking steps to make hazards that cannot be removed more safe. So, clean up the soap that spilled in the bathroom.
Hazards can come in all shapes and sizes. For example, if you have a pool in your backyard, that can be a premises liability lawsuit waiting to happen if you don’t take the proper safety steps. Remember how we said that you need to take steps to make hazards that cannot be removed more safe? Well, a swimming pool is a hazard because people, especially children, can drown in it. But you can’t remove it from the property when you’re not using it. So, in order to make the pool more safe, you need to take steps to be careful, or take “precautions.” Having a fence around your pool to try to keep children from sneaking in is an example of a safety precaution. If you have guests who cannot swim, don’t leave them in the pool without somebody else there —especially if the person who can’t swim doesn’t have a life jacket. However, after all is said and done, there’s only so much you can do to prevent pool accidents. In order to avoid ending up in a lawsuit, you’ll want to show that you did everything a reasonable person would do to keep the pool safe.
So you may be wondering what we mean when we say, “knew, or reasonably should have known.” Or, what is a “reasonable” person? Believe it or not, there’s a legal definition for reasonable. In this case, we’re asking if the average person would have been able to see that there’s a hazard. For example, the average person would—or should—know that a customer could slip on a puddle of hot sauce that’s left on the floor and become injured if they fall. However, you probably wouldn’t be able to sue Taco Bell if an actual T-Rex stormed in and punched you in the face. This is because the average person would be unable to anticipate that something like that would happen. The easier it is for the average person to predict an injury because of a hazard on the property, and feel like there is something that should be done about the hazard, the more likely it is that the property owner will be liable for the injuries.
WHAT IS THE OWNER RESPONSIBLE FOR?
So, you already know that, as a property owner, you have a responsibility to make sure that your property is safe for all your guests. It can be difficult to say for sure at what point a person who has been hurt has a winnable premises liability case. If you knew, or reasonably should have known, that there’s a hazard on your property that could injure your guest, you could be liable if that guest becomes injured due to the hazard. So, back to the Taco Bell example: if you slip on some hot sauce at Taco Bell, Taco Bell could be liable because they knew, or reasonably should have known, that hot sauce on the floor is a hazard, and they should have cleaned it up.
SUMMING IT UP
The person who owns a property can be liable for the injuries that happen on their property in certain situations. This usually happens when a property owner doesn’t do enough to prevent easily predictable injuries. For example, if the wood on your stairs is rotting, it’s easy to predict that someone could fall through the stairs and get hurt. Or, if there is a nail sticking up out of a board, somebody could step on it and injure their foot. If you have things on your property that could cause guests to become injured, you should either remove the hazard completely, or take steps to make the property safer. If you cannot repair your stairs, you need to warn your guests not to use the stairs and maybe block them off somehow.
At Moxie Law Group, we help clients by offering a free consultation. This way, we’re able to figure out whether or not our firm can help you, and there isn’t any risk or cost to you to find out. Moxie Law Group is dedicated to removing any financial barriers standing in the way of compensation. If you have been injured, contact Moxie Law Group today for a free consultation.