When you’re seriously injured in another person’s home or business, most people know that the property owner can be held liable. However, what happens when you’re injured on a piece of vacant land? Can you be compensated for an injury you obtained in a field, forest or stream? The answer can depend on a multitude of factors.
Premises liability refers to the concept that property owners have a responsibility to ensure that they provide a safe environment for visitors to their property. In general, property owners can be held liable for injuries sustained due to their negligence or their failure to post warnings.
Vacant land is any piece of property that is lacking buildings or other man-made structures. This means no slippery floors, poorly placed products on the floor, and no dimly lit stairwells. This leads many people to believe that property owners can’t be held responsible for injuries obtained on their property. It’s true that the typical “property hazards” don’t exist on undeveloped land, but that doesn’t mean that property owners are without any responsibilities. They’re still required to maintain a certain degree of safety on their property for both invited and uninvited guests. The level of safety that the property owner is required to provide will vary depending on who they’re permitting on their land, and for what purpose.
Your reason for being on another person’s land will decide what level of protection you are entitled to while on their property. Landowners have a duty to care for all their guests, and if they fail in that duty, then they can be found liable. The amount of protection they are required to give you is referred to as their “duty of care.”
In general, trespassers are owed the lowest duty of care. You are considered a trespasser if you enter another person’s property without their knowledge and consent. So long as the property owner does not intentionally seek to do you harm, it can be very difficult to hold them liable for any injuries you’ve sustained. However, this can change if the property owner knows that trespassers frequently visit their land, and they have done nothing to deter unwelcome visitors (such as posting “no trespassing” signs). In this case, it can be argued that the property owner has a duty to exert reasonable care to make sure that any tolerated trespassers are warned of known hazards.
Children who trespass are treated differently under the law with regard to premises liability. Pennsylvania adheres to the “attractive nuisance” or “child trespasser” doctrine, which grants children special protections. This means that a landowner can be held liable for injuries to a trespassing child even when the same landowner would not be held liable if the trespasser were an adult. These children are usually drawn in by an “attractive nuisance,” which is anything that may capture the interest of a child and attract them to trespass. If your child has been injured on someone else’s vacant land, you can hold them accountable if the following conditions are met:
Apart from most trespassers, who are owed a minimal duty of care, people who are invited onto someone’s land (be it for business, social events, or recreation) are owed a much higher duty of care. The landowner must warn visitors of known dangers, such as abandoned wells, marshy areas, barbed wire, and dangerous equipment. If the visitors are financially benefiting the landowner, the duty of care is much higher. The property owner must actively inspect their land to find dangerous conditions, and then alert the land users of any hidden dangers. The landowner may also have a duty to eliminate found dangers if possible. The one glaring exception to this duty of care is the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act.
Pennsylvania law limits the legal liability of landowners who make their land available to the public for free recreation. This law basically eliminates the traditional duty of care that landowners owe to guests. As long as they do not charge any fees, the Act says that landowners have no responsibility to keep their land safe for recreational users, and have no duty to warn of dangerous conditions.
The only exception to this would be instances where landowners willfully or maliciously fail to guard or warn about known dangerous conditions. For example, a landowner who allows public fishing on their stream typically cannot be found liable for an injury obtained by slipping on a wet rock. However, suppose they know that other people have been injured by slipping on rocks in the same part of the stream in the past, and they have reason to believe that it will happen again in the future. In that case, they are responsible for providing some sort of warning or protection for visitors to their property.
If you’ve been seriously injured on someone else’s land, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, pain, suffering, lost wages and loss of future earning capacity. It's important to hire an experienced attorney as soon as possible to help determine if a case can be made. Injuries on vacant land can be complicated, but a good legal team will evaluate the specifics of your situation by analyzing the facts and circumstances of the incident to determine who was negligent, as well as how much you’re owed.
If you have been seriously injured due to a landowner’s negligence in Pennsylvania, the experienced legal team at Ross Feller Casey is here to help. Our accomplished premises liability attorneys have a proven track record of winning cases of all types for our clients, and have negotiated and litigated more than $3 billion in personal injury cases for our clients.
We have a dedicated team of doctor-lawyers on staff, so we understand the complexities of your medical future after a severe injury. We’re here to make sure you and those you love have the financial stability needed for whatever the future may hold.
At Ross Feller Casey, we work on a contingency basis, meaning that we only get paid if we win your case. Please call or contact our office today to set up a consultation at no cost to you.
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