We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again…the law can be complex and confusing. This is especially true in the realm of personal injury matters. By their very nature, these matters mean a person has been injured and someone must legally assume the blame or responsibility for any injuries caused. Placing responsibility on a party is often not readily or easily accomplished.
The Phillips Law Firm never wants it clients or injured persons to be left in a state of confusion. This is why we’re dedicating some time once a month to examine personal injury scenarios and explain where responsibility for any perceived injuries lies. Our first scenario involves a topic known as “premises liability.”
What is Premises Liability?
Let’s assume for a moment that you own a home. Let’s draw a mailbox for your home at the front door. Now, pencil in a postal carrier that enters your property so that he can deliver the mail. This carrier has a reasonable expectation that he will not get injured while on your property. For you, the homeowner, this means that you are responsible for maintaining a reasonably safe environment upon your property.
This hypothetical demonstrates the general concept of “premises liability.” The factual scenario involved is typically one where a person steps foot on another person’s property and gets injured. The questions then become: (1) who was responsible for the injury; and, (2) what specific duty did the property owner have in regards to maintaining his property in a reasonably safe condition.
In the State of Washington, the answers to these questions depend on the specific legal classification that is placed on the injured person. That is, according to Washington’s premises liability laws, a person entering another’s property does so in one of three ways. He can enter the property as: an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. The specific label a person assumes will essentially determine responsibility and liability.
This will clearer if we examine each of our three legal classifications. An examination of each will indicate the duties owed to a person stepping foot on another’s property. It will also help determine the party that bears responsibility for injuries.
The law defines a trespasser as a person that steps foot on another person’s property without permission or invitation (e.g., a burglar). Premises liability laws state that a trespasser enters a person’s property at his own risk. This means property owners owe no duties to trespassers. The only exception is that property owners cannot deliberately, willfully or wantonly injure a trespasser. So, if a burglar steps foot onto your property and he’s injured after tripping over a small rock, the property owner is not responsible for the injuries because the injured party entered the property as a trespasser.
The law defines a licensee as a person that enters another person’s property with the property owner’s permission, but not for a business-related purpose that would benefit the property owner. For example, a licensee includes a social guest that is visiting a friend’s home for a non-business purpose. A property owner is responsible for any injuries caused to a licensee, but only if three conditions are met. These include:
- The property owner knows, or should realize, that a harmful condition exists on his property; and
- The owner fails to exercise reasonable care to either make the condition safe or to warn of the condition; and
- The licensee does not know or have reason to know of the harmful condition.
The law defines an invitee as a person that is invited onto another person’s property for a business related purpose benefiting the property owner (e.g., a customer of a restaurant). The law states that property owners have a duty of ordinary care for an invitee’s safety. This includes a duty to safely maintain portions of the property that an invitee has been expressly or implicitly invited to use (or, might be expected to use). Further, property owners have a duty to protect invitees from criminal conduct on the property that the owner either knows of or should know of.
The above represents a quick snapshot as to the intricacies involved in a premises liability matter. The most important thing to understand is that responsibility for injury, suffered by one person while on another person’s property, will ultimately depend on the injured party’s legal status at the time of the injury. This is by no means an easy issue to understand and resolve. Luckily, our knowledgeable attorneys have years of experience in representing injured parties in premises liability cases. If you have been injured while on another person’s property, simply contact us today.