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What Is Premises Liability?


Suppose you enter a retail store and you’re injured by a falling shelf. Who is liable in such situations? Can you recover damages for your injuries?

To put it briefly, “premises liability law” holds property owners accountable for accidents and injuries that might happen to people who are on their property. This includes injuries occurring in businesses, homes, and other locations.

At first glance, this area of law might seem straightforward. However, premises liability is quite broad and covers a wide range of injury situations. It also contains several nuances that can make a simple accident claim complex.

If you or a loved one were injured while on another person’s property, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. At Smith Law Center, we have decades of combined experience handling complex injury claims and holding the proper parties accountable for their negligence. We are currently the largest personal injury firm on the peninsula and one of the largest in the state of VIrginia.

Contact us at (757) 244-7000 to schedule a free consultation to learn more about your legal rights. We devote our full attention to ensuring each of our clients understands the options available to them.

What Types of Accidents Are Commonly Involved in Premises Liability Cases?

At its center, the main idea behind premises liability is holding a property owner liable for any accidents or injuries that occurred on their property. This can encompass a very wide range of accidents and injuries, such as those involving:

There are many other types of accidents that can fall under the category of premises liability. If you’ve been injured while on another person’s property, and are unsure of who needs to be held liable, you may need to contact a lawyer for advice and guidance.

At Smith Law Center, our attorneys have proven experience in determining liability for premises liability injuries, and holding the correct parties accountable.

How Much Is My Premises Liability Lawsuit Potentially Worth?

The amount of damages that can be recovered in a premises liability will depend on several factors, including how severe the injury is, how much each party knew about the potential dangers on the property, and the injured person’s relationship to the property and property owner.

However, as in any personal injury lawsuit, damages or a settlement award in a premises liability claim can cover:

  • Costs of hospital stays and medical treatment
  • Expenses associated with therapy and rehabilitation
  • Loss of wages and loss of future income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages, if there was intentional conduct or recklessness involved
  • In some cases, wrongful death costs

The types of accidents listed above can sometimes seem like everyday occurrences or minor incidents. However, even something as seemingly simple as a slip and fall case can involve serious injuries.

For instance, if the person hits their head after falling it could lead to traumatic brain injury, concussion, or other severe conditions. Or, if a heavy object falls onto a person, it could cause a spinal cord injury, leading to other serious complications. A skilled lawyer will be able to assess the injuries and properly calculate the damages needed to make the person whole again.

At Smith Law Center, our attorneys have proven experience in determining liability for premises liability injuries, and holding the correct parties accountable.

What Defines Negligence in Premises Liability?

Premises liability lawsuits are typically built on the legal concept of negligence. Negligence refers to situations where a person fails to exercise the reasonable care they are supposed to show others, with their failure causing injury to another person.

In a premises liability context, negligence usually takes the form of failing to take certain precautions, such as failing to repair a dangerous structure on their property. In order to prove premises liability based on negligence, it must be shown that:

  1. The property owner owed a duty of care to the person on the property
  2. There was in fact a dangerous or unsafe condition on their property
  3. The owner knew of the dangerous condition, yet failed to fix or remedy it; and
  4. The owner’s failure to prevent the accident caused the person’s injuries and measurable damages

So, as a broad example, suppose that a property owner knew that a staircase on their premises was about to collapse but did not take any steps to repair it. If someone uses it and gets injured by it collapsing, it may form the basis of a premises liability.

As will be shown in the following section, there are varying levels of duty and responsibility that the owner must follow, which depend on the nature of the visitor to the property.

Simply put, if you were injured while on someone else’s property, and you feel like they didn’t take the proper steps to ensure your safety, you may be entitled to recover damages.

What Is an Example of Duty of Care in Premises Liability Cases?

What makes premises liability so complex is that the property owner owes a slightly different duty of care to visitors to their property, depending on several situational factors.

The idea is that based on whether the person was invited, and their purpose on the premises, the property owner may have more or fewer opportunities to fix any potentially dangerous conditions.

There are three basic categories of visitors, and a property owner owes a different level of care to each:

Invitee: This is someone that a property owner has invited to enter the property for any lawful purpose.

Examples: A friend who was invited to another’s house, store customers and patrons, hotel guests, people attending a sporting event

Duty of Care: The property owner can be held liable if they knew or should have known about the dangerous condition if they exercised “reasonable care” in inspecting their property. The owner has a duty to warn all invitees of such risks, and a duty to inspect their property for dangers that might harm the invitee.

Licensee: This is someone who is allowed to be on the premises for their own benefit, and remains present at the consent of the owner.

Examples: A friend who stops by unannounced and enters the property owner’s house, a utility company that digs up the yard to work on a water pipe, or someone who the owner has granted permission to hunt or hike on their land.

Duty of Care: Similar to invitees, the owner is liable if they had reason to know of the hazard, and failed to take steps to correct the dangers. They also have a duty to warn the licensee; however, they generally don’t have a duty to inspect their property beforehand.

Trespassers: This is simply someone with no legal right or permission to enter the property.

Examples: A burglar, someone hiking or hunting on a plot of land without permission, or someone loitering after hours in a private construction site.

Duty of Care: Property owners are generally not responsible for injuries sustained by trespassers. They don’t have a duty to warn them of hazards or inspect their land to make it safe for them.

These categories may differ according to state law, and on top of that, there may be many exceptions to these rules. For instance, while property owners generally don’t need to warn trespassers of dangers, they also typically can’t set booby traps to harm them.

So, if you were injured while on someone else’s property and are unsure of your status as a visitor, sorting out damages and liability can be very confusing. For this reason, it’s in your best interests to contact a lawyer who can research the laws for you and determine your rights to recover damages.

How Can I Contact a Premises Liability Lawyer?

Premises liability cases can quickly get complicated and are best handled by an attorney who has experience sorting out such legal issues. Simply put, if you were injured while on someone else’s property, and you feel like they didn’t take the proper steps to ensure your safety, you may be entitled to recover damages.

Contact the Smith Law Center at (757) 244-7000 to schedule a free consultation regarding your claim. Our attorneys have a proven track record of successfully litigating complex injury cases. We treat you like family, and we work hard to ensure our communities and neighborhoods are safe for citizens.

Premises Liability FAQs

How long do I have to file a premises liability claim?

In the state of Virginia, a person typically has two years from the date of the incident to file a premises liability claim. This is known as the “statute of limitations,” or filing deadline.

Once the two years have passed, the person may not be able to file a lawsuit and recover damages anymore. Thus, it’s crucial to contact a lawyer as soon as possible if you believe you were injured due to negligence while on someone’s property.

How long will my premises liability case take?

Every premises liability case is different; some cases may be resolved in several months, while others can take up to a year or longer to fully complete. Cases involving complex issues or disputes over liability may require more investigation and review of evidence.

Is premises liability the same as general liability?

No—premises liability is a legal concept covering situations where a person is injured while on another person’s property. In comparison, general liability may refer simply to a person’s liability in causing any person injury.

Additionally, “general liability” can commonly refer to certain types of insurance that broadly covers bodily injury to policyholders.

How can a premises liability lawyer help me?

After an injury, you or your loved one may be recovering physically and may not be in the best position to handle court documents and requirements on their own. An experienced premises liability lawyer can perform tasks such as:

  • Gathering and filing court forms
  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Researching premises liability laws
  • Collecting evidence
  • Preparing a strong legal strategy

At the Smith Law Center, we prepare for each case meticulously to properly prepare for trial. Contact our attorneys at (757) 244-7000 for a no-cost consultation to discuss your premises liability case.

Client Testimonials

See what our clients are saying about our team and our services:

“Working with David and Lisa was a wonderful experience. I was overwhelmed by their kindness and efficiency. They allowed me to focus on my treatments and getting healthier knowing that they were advocating for me. And they were able to get me a settlement that was more than I had thought possible so that I can continue healing.”
-C. Shackelford

“I was very happy with the Smith Law center. They are professional, attentive and will truly fight for you. The entire office is very nice and communicated throughout the whole process. Mr. Gill is fantastic as well as the paralegals and the other administration team.”
– E. Lovett

“The attorneys and staff are great to work with. They care not only about a successful recovery, but ensuring their clients know what options are available for protecting the recovery long-term.”
– A. Hook

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