We spend a lot of time during an average week out and about in places other than our own home. We go to work or school, go out shopping, go out to eat, attend sporting events, go over to our neighbor’s or friend’s house, and travel to other destinations. When you are in one of these places, there is always a chance of getting hurt.
Accidents and injuries that commonly occur on the property of another party include:
- Slips and falls;
- Swimming pool accidents;
- Animal attacks;
- Elevator and escalator accidents;
- Accidents due to other property defects;
- Fires and floods;
- Exposure to toxic substances;
- Injuries resulting from inadequate premises security.
In many cases, injuries that occur on someone else’s property are minor and can be treated at home. There are times, however, when an injury may be more serious. In the latter cases, you may wonder what legal options you have.
Owners or caretakers can be held liable for injuries that happen on the property of another party under the legal theory known as “premises liability.” In order for the property owner or caretaker to be held liable, you must prove the following:
- The owner or caretaker owed you a duty of care to keep the property free of hazards;
- This duty was breached;
- Your injury resulted directly from this breach;
- You suffered compensable losses due to your injury.
What was your Status when you were Hurt on the Property?
The extent of a property owner or caretaker’s legal liability depends largely on what type of visitor you were when you entered the property. Your visitor status can be placed into one of three general categories:
- Invitee: The highest duty of care is owed to invitees. These are individuals who have explicit or implied permission to be on the premises. Examples may include employees, customers, patrons, and tenants. For those in this category, reasonable steps must be taken to keep the property free of dangerous conditions, and to properly warn these individuals of any known hazards.
- Licensee: A slightly lower duty of care is owed to licensees. These individuals also have permission to be on the property, but they generally enter for their own purposes. For example, these could be neighbors dropping by for a visit, social guests who are invited to a party, or door-to-door salespeople who are entering the property for their own economic gain. Generally, a property must be kept free of known hazards that may harm a licensee.
- Trespasser: A trespasser is someone who has no legal right to be on the property. As such, very little duty of care is owed to individuals in this category. The only obligation owners and caretakers generally have with regards to trespassers is to refrain from willful and wanton misconduct or entrapment that may cause them harm.
If you were in the invitee category, you have the best chance of prevailing with a legal action against the property owner or caretaker. If you were in the licensee category, your standard of proof is higher, but you may still have a case. If you were a trespasser, winning this type of case will be an uphill battle.
How Did the Accident Happen?
Being an invited guest on the property does not guarantee that you will be able to recover compensation. Property owners and their insurance companies are well aware of the possibility of frivolous premises liability claims, and there is a good chance that they will aggressively dispute your version of events. Some possible defenses they may use include:
- The hazard which caused your injury was clearly marked;
- The hazard which caused your injury was open and obvious to a reasonable person;
- You were not watching where you were going when the injury occurred (e.g., you were taking a selfie or texting on your cell phone);
- You were not wearing the proper footwear for the area in which you were walking;
- You were in an area of the property where visitors are not allowed or do not usually go.
To protect your legal rights, it is important to be proactive and take the following steps:
- Document the incident: Take multiple photographs of the accident scene to clearly show the hazard that caused your injury. If you are not physically able to take photos, ask someone who is with you to take them for you. Also, write down in as much detail as possible what happened while everything is still fresh in your mind.
- Obtain statements from witnesses: Speak with any individuals who may have witnessed what happened and get statements and contact information from them. In many cases, they will be willing to record a video stating what happened, which could be used as evidence to substantiate a legal claim.
- Follow your doctor’s orders: Get prompt medical attention for your injuries and be sure not to participate in any physical activities without your doctor’s approval. Many insurance companies send out investigators to look for any evidence that you are not really hurt, so stay safe and don’t do anything you aren’t supposed to be doing.
- Contact an experienced personal injury attorney: Premises liability cases can be complex and difficult to pursue. And when you deal with an insurance company on your own, there are many pitfalls that could cause the value of the claim to be diminished, or for the claim to be denied altogether. A skilled personal injury lawyer will be able to handle your case from start to finish, deal directly with the insurer, and help ensure that you are able to recover full and fair compensation for your injuries.
At Peake & Fowler, we have extensive experience successfully representing clients in premises liability cases and all other types of personal injury cases in South Carolina. For a free consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office today at 803-998-2412 or send us a message through our web contact form.