What Should I Know about Premises Liability?

We all spend a fair amount of time during the week out and about. We go to work, we go shopping, we go out to eat, visit friends and neighbors, go for a walk in the park, and engage in many other activities. Sometimes, accidents occur when we are on the property of another party. Many of these accidents are minor mishaps. Sometimes, however, they can result in moderate to severe injuries.

When someone suffers injury while on someone else’s property, they may be eligible for compensation under the legal theory known as “premises liability”.  There are a number of incidents wherein a substantial injury may occur that could be covered by premises liability. These include:

  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Swimming pool accidents
  • Escalator and elevator accidents
  • Dog bites and other animal attacks
  • Fires and explosions
  • Exposure to toxic fumes and chemicals
  • Injury or assault due to negligent security

Simply being injured on the property of another party does not necessarily mean you will be able to recover compensation through a premises liability action. You must prove that the property owner or caretaker was negligent with regards to keeping their property safe and free of hazards, and that their negligence was the cause of your injury. 

More specifically, you will need to show the following:

  • The defendant (property owner or caretaker) owed you a duty of reasonable care;
  • The defendant breached this duty in some way;
  • This breach contributed to your injuries;
  • Your injuries resulted in compensable losses (e.g., medical bills, time missed from work, pain and suffering, etc.)

The extent of the duty an owner or caretaker owes to a property visitor depends largely on the visitor’s status when they are on the premises. There are three general categories of property visitors:

  • Invitees: This is someone who has explicit or implied permission to be on the property, generally for the benefit of the property owner or caretaker. Examples may include customers and patrons at grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments; hotel and resort guest; and tenants who are renting an apartment or a commercial unit. The highest duty of care is owed to invitees, and those in charge of the property must take reasonable steps to keep the premises free of hazardous conditions that may cause them harm, and to adequately warn them if any such hazards exist.
  • Licensees: These are individuals who also have permission (explicit or implied) to be on the property, but it is usually for their own purposes. Examples of licensees may include package delivery carriers, unsolicited salespersons, neighbors coming over for a visit, and social guests. Owners and caretakers owe a slightly lower duty of care to licensees. They are still required to take reasonable steps to protect licensees from hazardous conditions on the property and adequately warn them when they exist, but they are not necessarily required to inspect the property to discover unknown hazards.
  • Trespassers: A trespasser is someone who has no legal right to be on the property.  As such, a very low duty of care is owed to visitors in this category. Property owners and caretakers have no legal obligation to protect trespassers from hazardous conditions. Their only obligation is to refrain from willful and wanton conduct or entrapment that may cause them harm.

How Property Owners Defend against Premises Liability Claims

Property visitors who fall into the category of invitee have the best chance of succeeding with a premises liability claim (if they are hurt on someone else’s property).  Licensees may also be able to recover compensation under certain circumstances, but they will have a higher burden of proof. Trespassers have very limited legal options when they are injured on a property they were not supposed to be on in the first place.

Even if you are an invitee or licensee, however, this still does not mean you will be able to easily recover compensation if you are injured. Property owners and their insurance companies are well aware of the possibility of frivolous premises liability claims, and they are likely to aggressively defend themselves against the claim.

Some possible defenses a property owner may use include:

  • The hazardous condition that caused your injury was clearly marked (e.g., with the cone, sign, or something similar);
  • The hazard was “open and obvious” and easily recognizable to a reasonable person;
  • You were not watching where you were going (e.g., you were sending a text or taking a selfie) when the injury occurred;
  • You were in an area of the property that is restricted or where visitors are not normally allowed to go.

If you are substantially injured on the property of another party, it is important to understand that you will run into resistance if you try to recover compensation.  For this reason, you need to take proactive steps to help preserve your legal rights:

  • Take multiple photographs of the accident scene from different angles to show how you got hurt and to show the lack of an adequate warning;
  • Obtain statements and contact information from any individuals nearby who witnessed the event;
  • Get immediate medical attention for your injuries;
  • Contact an experienced premises liability lawyer to discuss your legal rights and options.

If you or someone close to you was injured on someone else’s property in Connecticut, you may have the right to compensation. Call the Apex Law Firm today at (860) 893-0558 for a free consultation and case assessment. You may also message us through our online contact form or stop by our Hartford County office in person at your convenience.

Defective Premises in Connecticut

You have been injured on someone else’s property in Connecticut. Is the possessor of that property liable for your injuries? It depends. The duty owed by the possessor of that land or property to you depends on your status as either an invitee, licensee or trespasser.

Invitee

If you enter onto the property of another at the direct or indirect invitation of the property owner or possessor, you are an invitee. There are two types of invitees:

  • Public invitee: You were invited to enter or remain on land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is open to the public, i.e., a concert in the park or using a public sidewalk.
  • Business invitee: You were invited to enter or remain on the land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of land, i.e., shopping at a department store.

As an invitee, the possessor of land owes you the following duties:

  • Make reasonable inspections of the premises and provide safeguards to make the property reasonably safe;
  • Maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition; and
  • Warn you of dangers that you could not reasonably be expected to discover. However, the duty to warn does not arise if you have actual knowledge of a dangerous condition.

Licensee

If you have permission from the property owner or possessor to be on the property, but your visit is for personal reasons rather than for business or public purposes, you are a licensee.

As a licensee, the owner or possessor of land:

  • May not intentionally harm or lay a trap for you;
  • Must provide due care after your presence is actually or constructively known;
  • Must warn you of dangerous hidden hazards actually known to him.

There is no duty owed for open and obvious conditions.

Tresspasser

If you have no right or permission from the property owner or possessor to enter or remain on the land, you are a trespasser.

The owner or possessor of land owes no duty to you if you are trespassing; however, he may not intentionally injure or lay a trap for you. The duty owed increases once your presence becomes known.

Possession and Control 

Liability for injuries for defective premises does not depend on who owns legal title, but rather on who has possession and control.  Liability without possession and control can also attach where an independent duty exists.

In the landlord-tenant context, a landlord owes a duty of reasonable care as to those parts of the property over which the landlord has retained control … Landlords do not have a duty to keep in repair any portion of the premises leased to and in the exclusive possession and control of another.

Possession and control is not, however, the only basis for liability. A duty of care may arise from a contract, statute, or circumstances under which a reasonable person, knowing what he knew or should have known, would anticipate harm of the general nature of that suffered was likely to result from his act or failure to act.

Notice – Should the Possessor Have Known About the Hazardous Condition

For you to recover for a defective condition causing injury in Connecticut, you must prove that the land possessor had either (a) actual notice, or (b) constructive notice of the defect.  As to constructive notice, the question is whether the defective condition existed for such a length of time that the owner or possessor of land should have discovered and remedied it.

Notice, whether actual or constructive, must be of the specific defect which caused the injury and not merely of conditions that may produce such a defect despite subsequently in fact producing it.

If you have been injured in Connecticut due to a premises defect, or have questions about  liability or duty of care owed, call the experienced Connecticut premises attorneys at The APEX Law Firm in Hartford County at (860) 900-0900 to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer today, or visit us online at uptonlegal.com.

Written by Attorney Toney Pignatiello

Connecticut premises liability

Premises liability is liability that attaches for injuries caused by the dangerous condition of property owned or maintained by another. The basic concepts discussed here apply to all owners or occupiers of real property, including public entities. When specialized rules, such as governmental immunity, apply to public entity defendants, special sections are devoted to these issues.See §564 in the Connecticut practice book.

The liability that attaches in premises liability cases, and particularly slip and fall cases, is essentially negligence liability. This means that the plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed a duty of care, that the defendant’s conduct fell below the standard required by law, and that this breach was the legal cause of actual damage. In short, the plaintiff must prove each of the traditional elements of negligence in order to prevail.

The existence of legal duties in premises liability cases is greatly affected by the plaintiff’s status upon the premises. Most states differentiate between trespassers, licensees, and invitees, with different legal duties flowing from the determination of plaintiff’s status. The plaintiff must be prepared to plead and prove his status upon the premises, and many of the interrogatories set forth in this chapter are directed to the facts, witnesses, and documents bearing on the status issue.

Once it is shown that the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of due care, the issue becomes whether the defendant’s conduct fell below the standard required by law. The required standard of care is again dependent upon the plaintiff’s status, with the minimal obligations owed to a trespasser giving way to heightened standards of care as the plaintiff’s status improves from licensee to invitee. It is probably now the law that the defendant must warn any known plaintiff of obvious dangers, and at least in cases involving invitees, there is an affirmative duty of inspection. Several of the interrogatories in this chapter inquire as to the facts necessary for you to determine whether the defendant failed to comply with these different standards and thereby breached his or her duty of due care owed to the plaintiff.

Regardless of the plaintiff’s status, the defendant will ordinarily not be liable for injuries caused by conditions about which he or she had no knowledge, since the defendant has simply not acted unreasonably with regard to the condition. In many slip and fall cases it is plain that a dangerous condition existed, but the defendant contends that the condition was of such recent origin that he or she had not yet discovered it or had time to rectify it. Several of the interrogatories set forth in this chapter seek to discover relevant facts regarding defendant’s knowledge and the timing thereof. Since that knowledge may be acquired by actual observation, from the statements of third parties, and even from prior accidents, give careful consideration to interrogatory selection to insure that any source of knowledge is explored.

Bear in mind that a defendant with no knowledge of a defective condition may still be liable if a reasonable inspection would have disclosed the condition or if the nature of the premises themselves create a foreseeable risk of harm. This chapter contains additional interrogatories relating to the means by which the premises were inspected, any policies or protocols regarding inspection programs, and any other aspects of the premises or the business conducted thereon from which notice of dangerousness could be inferred. Further, the chapter contains interrogatories which inquire as to the nature, extent, and sufficiency of any warnings transmitted by a defendant to plaintiff.

If the defendant has breached a legally recognized duty, the plaintiff is entitled to recovery if the breach is the legal cause of actual damages. Plaintiff must discover all the facts, witnesses, and documents pertaining to the cause of the injury, and this chapter contains interrogatories designed for that purpose. Finally, the damage interrogatories set forth in connecticut practice book §§ 310 and 320 should be adapted to discover all pertinent contentions and data regarding recoverable damages.

Traditional negligence defenses apply to premises liability cases, and the following pages set forth interrogatories relating to comparative and contributory negligence as well as assumption of the risk. In addition, certain recurring defensive allegations are explored with specific interrogatories, such as plaintiff’s consumption of alcohol or drugs, and claims that an admitted defect was “obvious.”

Contact one of our Attorneys today or consult our areas of practice section to learn more about Premises liability in Connecticut.