There are two forms of private property: commercial and residential. Under the law, both businesses and individual homeowners are responsible for keeping their property safe for visitors. When they fail in that duty, victims and their families have a right to be compensated for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering.
The short answer to this may surprise you - no! There are three types of people when we’re talking about premises liability: trespassers, licensees, and invitees. Each type is afforded a different level of protection under the law.
Trespassers, who are not invited and may be actively discouraged, include:
Licensees enter a property for their own purposes, or as part of a social function. They are present at the consent of the property owner but provide no financial benefit.
Invitees enter a property to provide some sort of service or benefit to the property owner
If you’re trespassing, you usually only have the right not to be intentionally harmed. For example, if you’re shopping and you enter a room marked “Employees Only,” the business could not be held liable if you’re injured while climbing a ladder. However, that same business can be held liable if they deliberately placed items around doors to trip unsuspecting trespassers intentionally.
If you’re a licensee, you can expect that your host’s property will be safe, but the property owner's duty usually stops at giving a warning or correcting known hazards. They are not required to search for hidden dangers.
Invitees are given the highest level of protection under the law. If you’re providing a benefit to a property owner, they have a responsibility not only to warn of known dangers and correct them as soon as is reasonably possible, but they also must inspect, discover and correct any hidden or previously unknown hazards in the areas where invitees are typically allowed.
Trespassing and premise liability laws can be complicated and often situational. While property owners usually aren’t expected to protect trespassers, there are two main exceptions.
In Pennsylvania, property owners are required to deter, warn, or protect children from injury whenever they know (or should know) that children are likely to trespass. This special rule is referred to as the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. Because children are often naive to danger and are drawn to investigate dangerous conditions, property owners can be held liable for injuries to children if they have not tried to stop access by children. Common examples are trampolines, pools, and pieces of machinery.
Another group of trespassers in Pennsylvania that are afforded a little more protection are “tolerated trespassers.” Suppose a property owner knows that trespassing is common. In that case, they have a responsibility to either deter trespassing with signs, fences, or locks or to make the premises reasonably safe and notify trespassers of known hazards.
It’s almost guaranteed that if you’re seriously injured on private property, the property owner will try to claim that they were unaware of whatever hazard caused the injury. However, if a reasonably regular inspection would have uncovered the defect, then the property owner is still liable.
A property owner may also claim that they can’t be held responsible for the weather, such as puddles forming near an entrance on a rainy day or icy sidewalks in winter. While it’s true to an extent (a blizzard is going to make things slippery, and the floor will be wet during a downpour), a business or homeowner is required to make a reasonable effort to ensure the safety of their guests. It’s reasonable to expect that they will place mats or fans by entrances to keep the floor dry (or “caution” signs), and that they’ll frequently shovel and salt in winter.
While the injured party and the business owner will likely disagree about what is a “reasonable effort” to ensure safety, the law defines “reasonable” as what a person of ordinary judgment and intelligence would do in the same circumstance.
It’s important to contact an attorney quickly. Premises liability cases have a two-year statute of limitations and can be more complicated than they seem. Your legal team will need to prove several things for your case to be successful.
To prove that the property owner is liable, your legal team will collect as much information about your case as possible, including witness statements, incident reports, weather records (if weather played a part in your injury), police reports, and medical records.
The state of Pennsylvania uses the “modified comparative negligence” rule (also called the “comparative fault” rule), which means that a property owner is not required to pay the full cost of your injury if you are partially at fault. For example, if the court determines that the property owner was only 50 percent to blame for your injury, you will only be compensated for 50 percent of your damages.
If you have been seriously injured on someone else’s property in Pennsylvania, the premises liability lawyers at Ross Feller Casey is here to help. Our team has a proven track record of winning premises liability cases, and we’ve negotiated and litigated more than $2 billion in personal injury cases for our clients.
We have a team of doctor-lawyers on staff, so we understand that a severe injury can have long-lasting consequences. We’re here to make sure that you have the financial stability needed for whatever the future holds.
At Ross Feller Casey, we work on a contingency basis, meaning that we only get paid if we’re successful. Please contact our office today to set up a free consultation.
Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.