Have you recently eaten dinner at a restaurant? What would happen if you had fallen in the parking lot afterward? The California premises liability definition explains who would have been responsible for your fall and for paying for your injuries.
Imagine your evening had ended like this: While you ate dinner, the sky became dark. As you left the restaurant and entered the attached parking lot, you realized it was hard to see. There was no moon, and an overhead parking lot light was out. That light should have illuminated the row with your car. You could see the parked cars, so you headed toward your vehicle. Unfortunately, as you turned up your row, you tripped on an object and fell.
You felt a sharp pain in your right hip and ankle as you landed on your right side. As you reacted to the pain, you thrust off your hip toward your chest. Your blouse ripped, your wrist twisted under you, and your face landed on sharp gravel.
Your friend rushed over, yelling for help from a restaurant employee near the open restaurant door. Although you didn’t know it at the time, the premises liability definition matters a lot to you. It determines who pays for your hip and wrist surgeries, your physical therapy, and other expenses and losses from the fall.
Understanding the Premises Liability Definition
Premises liability is an area of personal injury law that addresses what happens when a person gets hurt on someone else’s property. Situations that could be governed by premises liability law include a shopper slipping at a store or a guest falling at a party.
Insurance companies and personal injury attorneys apply premises liability law to determine who must pay for injuries and other damages.
A general premises liability definition includes the existence of four elements. If any one of these elements is missing, the situation does not meet the legal definition of premises liability. Therefore, the property owner is unlikely to compensate the injured person.
Elements of a premises liability claim:
- Defendant (the person being asked to pay) owned, leased, occupied or controlled the property.
- A dangerous condition exists on the property and defendant is negligent in correcting the condition or warning visitors of the danger.
- Plaintiff sustained injuries.
- Defendant’s negligence substantial caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
A Property Owner’s Duty of Care to Visitors
Whether a property owner is negligent is a more complicated question than it appears. California Civil Jury Instructions 1001, “Basic Duty of Care,” state that a property owner
“is negligent if he fails to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. The property owner must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others.”
A judge or jury ultimately decides what qualifies as “reasonable care,” “reasonably safe,” and “risk of harm.” Most personal injury claims don’t make it to court, though; instead, the insurance company and the victim reach a settlement.
Applying the Premises Liability Definition to a Parking Lot Fall
Your imaginary after-dinner trip-and-fall in the restaurant parking lot can be used to demonstrate the elements of a premises liability case.
Ownership or Control of Property
Sometimes a defendant will assert that he is not responsible for caring for the property. This usually happens when a person renting the property and the owner of the property disagree about who is responsible for upkeep, maintenance, and repairs. Evidence such as the lease, testimony about who has cared for the property, and repair and maintenance bills can help determine who had control of the property for premises liability purposes.
In the restaurant parking lot example, the restaurant owns the land with the restaurant and parking lot. Therefore, in the example, the first element of the premises liability definition is met because the defendant owns the property.
Owner Neglects Duty of Care to Visitor
A property owner is negligent when he fails to use reasonable care to keep the property reasonably safe. The owner has a responsibility to protect visitors against hazards on the property or to warn them of dangers. An owner who operates a business has a higher duty of care to customers than a homeowner does to houseguests. Premises liability law calls customers in a store “invitees,” and guests in a personal home “licensees.”
Negligent maintenance of parking lot light
In the restaurant parking lot example, you were an invitee on the property. The restaurant has a duty to provide proper lighting, which allows invitees to navigate the restaurant and parking lot safely. Invitees should be able to clearly see any hazards or obstacles.
The restaurant neglected its duty to provide appropriate lighting for the parking lot. The burnt-out light prevented you from seeing the objects at the end of a parking lot row. The restaurant owner should have fixed the light before anyone exited the restaurant in the dark or taken alternative steps to ensure the parking lot was well-lit.
The restaurant owner may say that the light was working when the parking lot first got dark. If the owner can show that an employee regularly checked the parking lot lights and not much time had passed since an employee last saw the light working, the owner may not be found negligent.
Negligent placement of obstacles in parking lot and failure to warn of them
Another cause of injuries in the parking lot example was an obstacle at the end of a row of parked cars. It turns out that the “obstacle” was a piece of lumber. Near it were four small stacks of lumber, some scattered boards that had previously been stacked, and three bags of cement mix.
Earlier that day, contractors had repaired the restaurant exterior. They planned to finish the next day and had placed some of their supplies at the end of a row of cars. Their piles were neat and close together in an area painted with stripes to indicate it was not for parking. They placed a small orange cone next to the supplies.
Unfortunately, when you walked by, the large SUV parked next to the supplies cast a wide shadow. Therefore, neither the orange cone nor the piles were visible to you as you walked in the dark. If all the parking lot lights had been on, you would have easily seen the supplies and cone.
These facts present several questions related to negligence, including:
- Who is responsible for the items’ placement: the owner or the contractors?
- Was it reasonable to leave the lumber and cement mix in the parking lot?
- Did the orange cone provide reasonable notice of the hazard?
- How likely was it that someone would trip over the supplies?
- How likely was it that someone would scatter some of the supplies so they covered a larger area than intended?
Questions like these are answered as a premises liability claim progresses. An experienced premises liability attorney knows how to conduct a thorough investigation and obtain the evidence necessary to prove the owner’s negligence and resulting damages.
Plaintiff gets hurt
In any premises liability claim, a person must get hurt. Injuries include both economic damages, like the costs of medical care, and non-economic damages, like pain and suffering. In the parking lot example, your fall resulted in a broken hip, twisted ankle, broken wrist, bruises, scrapes and scratches. This element of the claim exists.
Owner’s negligence caused the injuries
Under the premises liability definition, the negligence must be the main cause of the injuries. Trips and falls happen all the time, but someone else’s negligence doesn’t always cause them. To win a premises liability case, the owner’s action or inaction must cause your injuries.
In the parking lot example, you fell because you couldn’t see objects placed in the dark parking lot. The owner failed to light the area properly and failed to keep it clear of obstacles. As a result, you got hurt.
Since California is a comparative negligence state, the owner may try to find reasons that you were partly at fault. The owner pays less in damages if you contributed to your accident.
The owner may say you didn’t see the objects because you weren’t wearing your glasses. He might say you were drunk. Or you were looking at your phone or joking with your friend instead of watching where you were going. An experienced premises liability attorney works with you to present persuasive evidence about who is responsible for your injuries.
How a Long Beach Premises Liability Attorney Can Help
Your Injuries are Personal to Me
If you have been hurt because of a problem on someone else’s property, I can help. For 35 years, I have advocated for accident victims’ rights. I understand how an accident scenario meets the premises liability definition and how to build a persuasive case for maximum recovery.
Because your injuries are personal to me, I handle all aspects of your case. I offer a free consultation by phone in English or Spanish to evaluate your case. You will be under no obligation and you will never pay any money unless you recover compensation for your losses.
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