Premises liability is a legal doctrine under which the owner, occupier, or possessor of a property can be held liable for accidents that occur on the property. It’s a subset of personal injury law and is applicable to private as well as public properties in Michigan. According to the doctrine, the owner or occupier of a property has a duty to maintain their property and provide a reasonably safe environment to those who reside in or visit their property.
The theory of premises liability also states that if the owner or possessor is unable to fix a defective condition in a timely manner, they have a duty to warn those who visit their property. If the owner or occupier fails to do so, and if their negligence leads to an accident, the party that gets injured in the accident can sue them and recover compensatory damages.
Difference Between Personal Liability and Premises Liability
One of the most important things you need to know about the doctrine of premises liability is that it is applicable only in cases where you are injured as a result of a defective or dangerous condition on someone’s property. If you are injured as a result of someone’s actions, you can only hold them – not the property owner – liable.
Consider the following scenario:
You are shopping at a supermarket. Another shopper is talking on the phone and not paying attention to you at all. They accidentally hit you with their grocery cart while trying to move past you. You fall down and break your hip.
In the aforementioned scenario, you cannot sue the owner or possessor of the supermarket, since they had nothing to do with the accident. Instead, you can file a personal injury claim against the shopper who caused the accident.
Let us now consider another scenario:
You are shopping at a supermarket. The floor is missing a tile, which you fail to notice since it is carpeted. You trip, fall down, and break your hip. In this scenario, you can sue the owner or possessor of the supermarket, since they had a duty to fix the defective condition – the missing tile – that caused the accident.
Duty of Care in a Premises Liability Claim
Under the legal theory of premises liability, the owner or possessor of a property owes a duty of care only to certain categories of people.
These are people who visit the property to do business with the owner or possessor, to buy their products or use their services, or for any other commercial purpose.
These are people who visit the property under the express or implied permission of the owner or possessor. These might include friends, social guests, acquaintances, and other people who might visit the property for a non-commercial purpose.
Level of Care
Under the doctrine of premises liability, the highest level of care is owed to invitees, followed by licensees. The owner or possessor does not owe a duty of care to those who trespass on their property or enter the property through unlawful means.
Exception to the Trespassing Rule
There is, however, an exception to the trespassing rule. If the property in question contains features that might attract children, the owner or possessor has a duty to make sure that their property is in a reasonably safe condition. If they fail to do so, and if a child trespasses into their property to use one of these features and gets injured, they can be held liable.
Examples of Attractive Nuisances
The most common examples of features that can be considered attractive nuisances include swimming pools, fountains, trampolines, manmade ponds, open pits, wells, tree houses, abandoned automobiles, abandoned refrigerators, construction equipment, and any other piece of equipment or feature that might attract curious children.
Types of Premises Liability Claims
Slip, Trip, and Fall Claims
Slip and fall claims account for a significant percentage of tort claims filed in the country every year. Data shows that slip, trip, and fall accidents are the leading cause of emergency room visits in the country. Additionally, fall accidents are one of the leading causes of hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries among the elderly.
The most common conditions on a property that can lead to a slip and fall accident include:
- Accumulation of snow and ice
- Accidental spills that are not cleaned in a timely manner
- Puddles formed by water leaking from refrigerators or AC units
- Loose sawdust on the floor
- Loose debris on the floor and stairwells
- Defective, broken, or missing steps in stairways
- Defective, broken, or missing handrails
- Wrinkled or torn carpeting
- Scattered tools and cables in high foot traffic areas
- Uneven, raised, or broken floor surface
- Cracks and potholes on the floor, pavements, or parking lots
- Lack of lighting or inadequate lighting
Elevator Accident Claims
Elevators are an essential means of vertical transportation in multi-story buildings. The owner of the property or the person who has leased it and is in charge of maintaining it has a duty to make sure that all the elevators are in working condition. When they fail to do so, they can be held responsible for the resulting deaths, injuries, and other damages.
The most common types of elevator accidents that can lead to a premises liability claim include:
If the doors close too fast or too suddenly, you could get caught in between and suffer serious injuries. Similarly, if the built-in sensors are defective, the doors might fail to detect your presence and close on you, which can result in crush injuries or traumatic amputation.
If the elevator fails to properly line up with the floor’s level, the gap between the elevator’s level and the floor’s level can lead to trip and fall accidents.
If the elevator moves too fast, you could get thrown against another person or against the wall and get injured. Similarly, if it stops abruptly while moving fast, you could get thrown into someone, into the floor, or against the wall and get injured.
Faulty wiring in the elevator can lead to electrocution accidents, which can result in burn injuries, internal injuries, tissue damage, nerve damage, and ventricular fibrillation.
Falling into Shafts
Falling down the shaft of an elevator can result in serious and often fatal injuries. These types of accidents mostly happen due to a lack of warning signs and failure to install guardrails and other fall-prevention mechanisms.
Negligent Security Claims
Negligent security claims – also referred to as inadequate security claims or premises security claims – can be brought against property owners or possessors for failing to provide adequate security to those who visit the property.
For example, if you get mugged and assaulted in the parking lot of a shopping mall, you might be able to sue the owner or the party responsible for maintaining the property for failing to provide adequate security.
Negligent security claims are different from most other types of premises liability claims since you are filing a civil suit for what is essentially a criminal offense.
It should be noted that the legal theory of negligent security does not give visitors the right to sue the property owner for any crime that occurs within the premises. The owner can be held liable only if the crime in question was foreseeable.
In the aforementioned example, the owner can be held liable only if a series of muggings had been reported in the recent past and the owner knew or should have known that the probability of such an incidence happening again was fairly high.
The most common examples of negligent or inadequate security include:
- Failing to install adequate lighting within the premises as well as in the parking lot
- Failing to install security cameras
- Failing to fix broken windows, broken doors, and other vulnerable entry points
- Failing to install a security gate
- Failing to install working locks on doors
- Failing to hire security guards
- Failing to take action even after a customer, resident, or visitor complains about a potential danger
Dog Bite Claims
Generally, if you are attacked by a dog, you can only hold the dog owner responsible for your injuries. Pertaining to this, if the attack happens in an apartment complex, business establishment, or any other kind of commercial property, you might also be able to hold the owner of the property responsible for your injuries.
In order to be able to sue a landlord or a property owner for a dog bite attack, you must establish the following elements.
- The landlord or property owner was aware of the dog’s presence on their property.
- They knew or should have known about the aggressive or dangerous tendencies of the dog in question (whether the dog had attacked and injured someone or tried to attack someone before and if it was brought to the owner’s attention).
- They failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the dog from attacking others again.
Swimming Pool Accident Claims
If a pool owner fails to keep their pool safe, and if you get injured as a result, you might be able to hold them liable under the doctrine of premises liability.
The most common types of swimming pool accidents for which the owner can be held liable include:
- Falling from a slippery deck
- Getting caught in the drain
- Getting injured due to unsafe or defective pool attractions like slides and diving boards
- Inadequate or lack of supervision
One of the factors that make swimming pool accident claims different from other types of premises liability claims is that the theory of attractive nuisance is applicable here. Even if a child were to trespass into the premises and drown in an unfenced or unguarded pool, the owner can still be held liable.
Common Places Where the Theory of Premises Liability Can Be Applicable in the Event of an Accident
- Shopping malls
- Retail stores and supermarkets
- Restaurants and bars
- Movie theaters
- Gyms and recreational centers
- Sports arenas
- Schools and colleges
- Hospitals and nursing homes
- Airports, train stations, and bus stations
- Factories, manufacturing plants, warehouses, and other industrial facilities
Apart from this, you can also sue the owner of a residential property if you are injured as a result of a defective condition – which they failed to fix and failed to warn you about.
Establishing Liability in a Michigan Premises Liability Case
Establishing liability in a premises liability case can be harder compared to most other types of personal injury cases, as you need to prove that the owner or possessor had actual or constructive knowledge about the defective condition that caused the accident.
Actual knowledge means the owner or possessor knew about the defective condition and did not take any action to fix it or warn you about it.
Constructive knowledge, on the other hand, means the defective condition in question existed for such a long time or was so obvious that anyone exercising reasonable care or diligence must have known about it.
You need to have an experienced Southfield premises liability lawyer on your side to be able to establish the liability of the owner or possessor and recover damages.
Why You Need a Lawyer with Case-Specific Experience to Handle Your Premises Liability Claim
While all licensed personal injury lawyers are qualified to handle a premises liability claim, not all of them handle these cases on a regular basis. In fact, far too many lawyers are hesitant to accept these cases, since establishing the liability of the owner or possessor can be extremely difficult.
A personal injury lawyer who typically only handles claims related to car accidents, motorcycle accidents, or medical malpractice might struggle to build a winnable case, as they might not be familiar with the intricacies associated with premises liability claims.
It is why you need to choose a personal injury lawyer who has handled premises liability cases similar to yours before. You should also find out whether they have litigated premises liability cases and recovered compensation for their clients. This is because trial experience is the single biggest factor that can help your lawyer gain leverage over the at-fault party’s insurance company.
Moreover, hiring a premises liability lawyer with trial experience can significantly improve your chances of recovering the monetary compensation you deserve, since they can always choose to take your case to trial if the insurance company is unwilling to make a reasonable settlement offer.
Injured on Someone’s Property? Choose the Most Trusted Premises Liability Lawyers in Michigan to Fight for You
Choosing the right Southfield, MI and surrounding area premises liability lawyer could be the difference between recovering full and fair compensation and accepting an unreasonably low settlement offer. The lawyers at The Lobb Law Firm have over 50 years of combined experience in handling premises liability claims as well as a wide range of personal injury claims related to car accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, dog bite attacks, and more.
Our legal team is led by Joseph R. Lobb – who is one of the highest-rated personal injury lawyers in Michigan today and has over three decades of civil litigation experience in state and federal courts. We have the legal knowledge, trial experience, and financial resources to handle even the most complicated of premises liability cases. We can get results that few other firms can.
To discuss your claim with a seasoned Southfield, MI premises liability lawyer, call our law firm today at 248-591-4090 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.