What is the difference between premises liability and negligence?

People often have questions about negligence in personal injury cases and issues of premises liability. What do you do if you were hurt on someone else’s property? Or because another party was negligent in some way? How can you cover your expenses? If you believe you’ve been injured as a result of either premises liability or negligence, it’s a good idea to consult with a personal injury lawyer to determine if you have a case. But for now, we’ll go over the difference between the two legal concepts and some examples of each:

What Is Negligence?

Negligence is a broad term that forms the basis for most personal injury lawsuits. When we say that someone has been negligent, we mean that they acted in a careless or reckless way, without regard for the consequences, and as a result, they caused harm to another. In a car accident case, a driver might be negligent if they were speeding or running a red light, causing a serious accident that hurt someone. This is one of the more common types of personal injury cases, but there are many others. Boat, train, or plane crashes, accidents at work, defective products, dog bites – these are all situations where a person or entity’s negligence may have caused harm. Premises liability is another potential form of negligence.

What Is Premises Liability?

There are different burdens of proof for negligence in different types of personal injury cases. With premises liability, the injured party (also called the plaintiff) is asserting that they suffered an injury because of some unsafe condition or situation on another’s property. For example, if you were shopping at a store and a lighting fixture fell on your head, giving you a concussion, you might wonder if the store was negligent in maintaining or fixing the light fixture. After all, properly installed ceiling lights don’t usually fall out of the ceiling.

This doesn’t mean that any injury occurring on someone else’s property amounts to negligence or is grounds for a premises liability case. Sometimes, accidents just happen – we’ve all had moments where we tripped over our own feet. However, if the injury occurred because of an unsafe condition that a reasonable person should have either corrected or warned the visitor about, then it may be a situation of premises liability.

Who Is Responsible For Premises Liability? Is It Only The Owner?

Not necessarily. Depending on the situation, the owner or the renter/occupier may be liable. Usually, the distinction depends on who actually controls the area of the property where the accident occurred. For example, let’s say that you go to visit a friend who lives in an apartment complex. Going up to the door, you trip on a loose brick in the walkway, fall, and break your wrist. Your friend controls their own apartment but has no control over common areas like the yard, parking lot, or the walkway leading up to the building. These are typically the landlord’s responsibility, and the landlord should have taken care of that loose brick, so if anyone is liable, it would be the landlord.

On the other hand, if you went inside your friend’s apartment and tripped on a loose floor tile, it’s possible your friend was negligent. This also depends on whether or not they knew about the floor tile – if it was a recent development and they never noticed it was loose before, then they weren’t negligent. If, however, they noticed it was loose months ago, but didn’t take steps to have it fixed or warn you about it when you walked in, then the court might find that they were negligent.

There is also one more thing to consider when determining liability in premises cases. In rental situations, the language of the lease is very important. Generally, any rental agreement will specify who is responsible for repairs and may set out parameters for having them done. 

Let’s return to the loose tile in your friend’s apartment. If the lease specified it was the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the floors in the apartment, and your friend had previously reported the loose tile to management, but management never fixed it, then the owner of the building might be liable. This does assume that management had a reasonable amount of time to achieve the repair – if your friend reported it just a few hours ago, it would be unfair to expect the repair to have happened so quickly. In this case, your friend should have warned you about the tile. On the other hand, if your friend has called about the tile several times in the past three months, and management has made no effort to fix it, then they may be liable.

Can Anyone File A Lawsuit For Premises Liability?

Yes. Whether or not the court believes your case has merit is another story. If you were legally on the property where you were injured, the court would usually allow you to argue your case that the responsible party was negligent. However, suppose you were not on the property for some legal reason, such as visiting a friend or doing some work on the premises. In that case, the court is likely to dismiss your case as trespassers do not have any legal expectation of safety. For example, if you ignore a sign that says, “Danger, keep out,” climb over a locked gate, and then get injured on the property, your case will probably be dismissed. It doesn’t matter if the owner was negligent or not if you weren’t supposed to be there in the first place.

Do You Have To Go To Court?

Not necessarily. Like other types of personal injury suits, premises liability cases are often settled out of court. Most attorneys will attempt to work out a settlement with the responsible party or their insurance company before filing a lawsuit. If you’re able to come to a fair agreement, settling out of court is usually a faster, less stressful process. But if the other party simply won’t agree to a reasonable amount for your injuries, you may need to go ahead and proceed to a court case to fight for the compensation you deserve.

Do I Need An Attorney For A Premises Liability Claim?

Yes, we highly recommend you speak with a lawyer about any potential premises liability case. Although you can file a claim with the other party’s insurance on your own, this isn’t recommended. Insurance companies have a long list of reasons not to pay out claims, or they may only offer an amount that doesn’t fully cover your costs. Your attorney can see through these tactics and knows what your claim is worth. They will work to secure an appropriate settlement for your injuries. Additionally, they can often sort out who is really responsible, as this can be confusing. If you’re hurt in a store, for example, it can be more complicated than you think to figure out who is responsible for the unsafe situation – the store, their parent company, their insurance company, the entity they rent the building from, a third party vendor who created the unsafe situation, etc.

If you have questions or concerns about an injury you’ve suffered on someone else’s property, please contact Auger and Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers for a free consultation. We’ll go over what happened and let you know your options for pursuing a claim. You can reach us online or by calling 800-559-5741.