Let’s say you and your family decided to beat the excessive heat this summer and take many trips to your local pool. During one of these visits, your child falls into the deep end of the pool. Even more frightening, you notice that there is not a lifeguard, or any other authority around who can help assist your child who is struggling.
Hypothetical situations like these happen every day around the country. If you, your child, or your spouse were to be injured at a public pool – or a public park, and amusement park, a local restaurant, or any property – you would be well within your right to seek compensation for the damages you sustain. St. Louis property owners have a responsibility to prevent these types of situations from occurring on their property.
Do property owners have a responsibility to keep me safe?
Simply put, property owners absolutely have a responsibility to maintain a reasonably safe environment for anyone frequenting their establishment. This responsibility is known in the legal profession as “premises liability,” which holds that property owners are liable for accidents and injuries that happen on their premises.
Property owners can be held liable for a broad range of accidents that occur on their property, from an injury sustained from a swimming pool accident to a slip and fall accident at a restaurant. For a property owner to be held liable in a premises liability lawsuit, the property owner must be found negligent in their duty to provide or maintain a safe environment. To prove negligence, several factors will be considered, such as the legal classification of the visitor or injured party, the property’s condition, the actions taken by both the visitor and the owner, and whether the injured party is a trespasser or a child.
What are the differences between each type of legal classification for visitors?
A property owner’s standard of care varies based on the legal status of the visitor. The four types of legal classifications for visitors of an establishment are invitees, licensees, social guests, and trespassers.
- Invitees are people who are invited to enter the property, such as customers at a retail establishment. As an invitee, there is an implication on the part of the property owner that all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that the property is safe enough to invite other customers into the establishment.
- Licensees, on the other hand, are people who have the implied permission of the property owner to enter the property but do so for his or her own purposes. Salesmen, for example, would be classified as licensees. With licensees, property owners have a general duty to warn about potential hazards based on two factors: whether the property owner is aware of the hazard and if the licensee is not able to discover the hazard on his or her own.
- A social guest is pretty self-explanatory; it is just a classification for a welcomed visitor to the property. A person who visits a museum is a welcomed guest, as is your neighbor if you invite him or her to your house for a party.
- Trespassers, on the other hand, are people who enter the property who are not allowed to do so. Generally, property owners are not obligated to exercise a duty of care to trespassers, thought they are expected to offer warning to trespassers to prevent any injury from occurring. An example would be putting up a “No Trespassing” sign. The sign offers the official warning to all potential visitors, including trespassers.
How is liability determined when the trespasser happens to be a child?
Even though property owners are not obligated to exercise a duty of care to trespassers, there is an exception for children. If the trespasser is a child, the property owner has to exercise a duty of care that can prevent a potential risk of harm happening to the child under something called the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. What that means is that if you have a pool, you need to make sure kids cannot get into it when you are not watching. If you have a dog, you cannot allow it to roam free and potentially bite someone.
In spirit, if not actually in fact, the laws provide that as an adult, you are responsibility for the welfare of children simply because they are children. So if you have a trampoline in your backyard for your own children, and a neighborhood child wanders into the yard, tries to bounce on it, and then gets hurt, you can be liable for the child’s injuries.
How does the condition of the property affect a premises liability lawsuit?
The condition of the property serves as an example of the standard of care that the property owner exercised for all classifications of visitors, with the exception of trespassers. Regarding invitees and licensees, there are certain factors that the court will consider when determining whether the standard of care was met.
These factors include the circumstances that led to the visitor entering the property, how the property owner is using the property, the predictability of the accident that happened, and the reasonableness of the owner’s effort to fix a dangerous condition or warn visitors of the dangerous condition.
Does the visitor’s actions affect a premises liability claim?
Sometimes, yes. One of the ways that the liability of property owners can be limited is by implying that the visitor was partially at fault for the accident that occurred. Similar to property owners, visitors have a duty to exercise reasonable care for their own safety. If you see a “Wet floor” sign at a supermarket and ignore it, and then you fall, the supermarket may not be liable for your injuries.
At The Hayden Law Firm, our goal is to advocate for your rights after you are injured due to another’s negligence. We work to reclaim what you’ve lost and secure the compensation you need. Please call our offices at 314.480.3100, or fill out a contact form for a free, no-risk consultation. We proudly serve clients in St. Louis, and throughout Missouri and Illinois.
Attorney Amanda L. Hayden has dedicated her legal career to fearlessly advocating for clients and their families after their lives have been devastated by the careless and/or reckless conduct of others.
Read more about Amanda L. Hayden