Premises liability is an important concept in California law that holds landowners responsible for injuries that occur on their property. Under California law, landowners owe different legal duties to different types of visitors, depending on their status. In this blog post, we will explore the different types of visitors recognized under California law and the corresponding legal duties owed by landowners to each type.
What is Premises Liability?
Premises liability is a legal concept that holds landowners responsible for injuries that occur on their property. In California, landowners have a duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition and to warn visitors of any hidden dangers that may exist. If a landowner fails to meet this duty and a visitor is injured as a result, the landowner may be held liable for the visitor’s injuries.
Types of Visitors
Under California law, there are three types of visitors: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Each type of visitor is owed a different legal duty by the landowner.
Invitees are visitors who are invited onto the property for a business purpose or for the benefit of the landowner. Examples of invitees include customers at a store or guests at a hotel. Landowners owe invitees the highest duty of care and must take reasonable steps to ensure that their property is safe. This duty includes inspecting the property for hazards, repairing any hazards that are found, and warning invitees of any hidden dangers that cannot be repaired.
Licensees are visitors who are invited onto the property for a social purpose, such as a party or a gathering. Examples of licensees include friends and family members who are invited over for a barbecue or a dinner party. Landowners owe licensees a slightly lower duty of care than invitees and must warn them of any hidden dangers that the landowner knows about or should know about.
Trespassers are visitors who enter the property without permission or authorization. Examples of trespassers include people who climb over a fence to swim in a private pool or people who cut across someone’s lawn to get to a nearby store. Landowners owe trespassers the lowest duty of care and generally do not have a duty to warn them of any dangers on the property. However, if a property owner knows that trespassers are likely to enter their property, they must take reasonable steps to ensure their safety. Finally, landowners cannot intentionally harm trespassers or set traps for them.
Legal Duties Owed to Visitors
In addition to the duty to maintain safe premises and warn of hidden dangers, landowners owe visitors a duty to provide reasonable care. This duty includes taking reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm to visitors and to protect them from criminal activity that may occur on the property. For example, if a landowner knows that there is a high risk of criminal activity in a certain area of the property, they may have a duty to take steps to protect visitors from that activity, such as installing security cameras or hiring a security guard.
Damages that can be Awarded
If a landowner is found liable for damages in a premises liability case, the visitor may be awarded damages for their injuries. These damages can include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Punitive damages (in cases of gross negligence)
Premises liability law can impact both landowners and visitors in a variety of ways. Here are three examples:
1. Slip and fall accident at a grocery store
A woman was shopping at a grocery store when she slipped and fell on a wet floor. The floor was wet because a produce employee had spilled water on it and failed to clean it up. The woman suffered a broken wrist and other injuries. She sued the grocery store for premises liability, alleging that the store had a duty to keep the floor safe and that it breached that duty by failing to clean up the water. The jury found in favor of the woman and awarded her damages.
2. Dog bite accident at a neighbor’s house
A man was visiting his neighbor’s house when he was bitten by the neighbor’s dog. The dog was not on a leash and had a history of biting people. The man sued the neighbor for premises liability, alleging that the neighbor had a duty to keep the dog under control and that he breached that duty by allowing the dog to run loose. The jury found in favor of the man and awarded him damages.
3. Accident at a hotel
A woman was staying at a hotel when she fell through a rotted floorboard in her hotel room. The floorboard was rotted because the hotel had failed to maintain the property properly. The woman suffered a broken leg and other injuries. She sued the hotel for premises liability, alleging that the hotel had a duty to keep the property safe and that it breached that duty by failing to maintain the floorboards. The jury found in favor of the woman and awarded her damages.
These are just a few examples of real-world premises liability cases. The specific facts of each case will determine whether the plaintiff is able to recover damages. However, in general, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty to keep the property safe, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the breach.
If you have been injured in a premises liability accident, you should speak to a law firm with extensive experience in California premises liability law, like Gateway Pacific Law Group, to discuss your legal options.
In California, an affirmative defense is a defense that a defendant raises in response to a plaintiff’s claim. Affirmative defenses are different from defenses, which are simply denials of the plaintiff’s allegations. Affirmative defenses assert new facts or circumstances that, if proven, would defeat the plaintiff’s claim even if the plaintiff’s allegations are true.
Some common affirmative defenses in California premises liability cases include:
Sweep sheets are a common defense used by property owners in premises liability cases. A sweep sheet is a record of when an area was last inspected or cleaned. Property owners may use sweep sheets to argue that they were not aware of a hazardous condition because it was not present during the last inspection.
However, sweep sheets are not always a reliable defense. If a hazardous condition existed for a significant amount of time, the property owner may still be held liable even if it was not present during the last inspection.
In addition to sweep sheets, property owners may use affirmative defenses to argue that they should not be held liable for your injuries. Some common affirmative defenses in premises liability cases include:
Assumption of risk
When a visitor knew about the hazard and voluntarily assumed the risk of injury.
When a visitor’s own negligence contributed to their injuries.In California, the plaintiff’s own actions may also be taken into account when determining liability. If the plaintiff was partially responsible for their own injuries, the court may assign a percentage of fault to them. This is known as comparative fault.
Act of God
God acts in mysterious ways and when that happens, landowners can blame god! In general, an “act of god” means that the hazardous condition was caused by a natural disaster or other unforeseeable event.
It is important to note that affirmative defenses are not always successful. The burden of proof is on the property owner to prove that they should not be held liable.
In conclusion, premises liability is an important concept in California law that holds landowners responsible for injuries that occur on their property. Landowners owe different legal duties to different types of visitors, depending on their status. If you have been injured on someone else’s property, it is important to seek legal advice to determine your rights and options for seeking compensation.
About The Author
Roger Haag is an attorney who specializes in consumer, labor, and employment law, primarily representing employees. Mr. Haag has extensive experience in various legal proceedings, including arbitration hearings, administrative hearings, bench and jury trials, and has even presented arguments before the California Courts of Appeal. Additionally, Mr. Haag served in the United States Navy and also has professional experience with the Department of the Navy’s Civilian Acquisition Workforce and Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel in Washington D.C.
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