Premises Liability Accident Attorneys in New Jersey
What is Premises Liability?
In a nutshell, the owner of a property is liable for injuries sustained on the property due to dangerous conditions, lack of maintenance, or certain other factors. Premises liability covers a wide range of situations—everything from faulty stairs to a wet floor that causes someone to slip and fall.
Premises liability applies to commercial buildings, residences, and public property. Whether the incident occurred in a neighborhood home or a national supermarket, the owners have a reasonable responsibility for the safety of their occupants.
Property owners and landowners have a duty to their customers, tenants, and visitors to ensure the conditions of the property are safe. If a property owner’s failure to maintain safe conditions leads to an injury, he or she can be found liable.
Different Types of Premises Liability
Premises liability is an umbrella term for several different situations. Types of premises liability include:
- Slip and Fall
- Unsafe Buildings
- Sports or Recreational Accidents
- Inadequate security
- Inadequate Hotel/Motel Security
- Security Guard Assault
- Unlawful Detention or False Arrest
- Animal Attacks
- Swimming Pool Accidents
- Amusement Park Accidents
- Liquor Liability
- Construction Site Accidents
Slip and fall accidents occur most often when a store fails to mop up a spill, causing customers to fall and injure themselves. But slip and fall incidents can also arise from recently waxed floors, worn or torn carpet, and more. If a property owner had ample knowledge of the problem and time to rectify it, he or she could be at fault for a slip and fall accident.
Unsafe buildings include a number of structural hazards, including a defective staircase, holes in the ceiling or floor, shoddy construction, and failure to install a handrail. Many structural hazards violate city or state building codes, and landlords can be held liable for certain lapses in safety standards. This category also includes structures that were originally safe, but are no longer safe due to a lack of maintenance or repairs. Missing window screens, broken tiles, and dangerous clutter can injure occupants, triggering premises liability.
Inadequate security includes both the physical security and lighting of a property. If a parking structure is not adequately lit and it leads someone to injure him or herself, the owner could be liable. In addition, landlords have a duty to their tenants to report dangerous criminal activity occurring on the property. Malls, hotels, and other properties should provide adequate security to prevent unnecessary injuries.
Security guard assault is a troubling phenomenon nationwide. Security officers at malls and casinos, as well as bouncers at clubs and bars, have a duty to handle customers without recklessness or negligence. While a certain degree of force is sometimes necessary, excessive or unreasonable force can open up grounds for premises liability. Harrah’s Casino in Atlantic City was implicated in one such incident, in which a 36-year-old man suffered a concussion, bruised ribs, severe cuts, and four fractured teeth at the hands of security personnel.
Unlawful detention or false arrest cases are most common in situations with retail stores and security guards. If a security guard detains a shopper on grounds of shoplifting and it turns out the person did not actually steal any items, the security guard or retail outlet could be subject to a false arrest lawsuit.
Animal attacks constitute another type of premises liability. If you visit someone’s home and his or her pet dog attacks you, causing an injury, the pet owner could be held liable. Also, if the person is harboring wild animals—whether legally or illegally—he or she could be liable for damages if the animal injures you.
Swimming pools are considered part of the property they are located on, making them eligible for premises liability protection. Owners of public pools must properly maintain and repair them so as not to injure guests, and owners of private pools have a duty to inform swimmers of risks that are not apparent.
Amusement parks caused nearly 1,500 ride-related injuries in 2012, an increase of over 200 from the previous year. Safety standards are in place at amusement parks to minimize the risk of ride-related injuries, but if owners or employees overlook certain safety hazards, there can be grounds for a premises liability lawsuit.
MDL’s successfully prosecuted a case against a store for a man who slipped and fell due to water leakage in a men’s restroom, causing an aggravation of diabetes resulting in the amputation of two toes. The jury awarded $450,000.
Causes of Slip and Fall Accidents
More than half of all slip and fall accidents are caused by dangerous walking surfaces. Some hazardous conditions that can lead to an accident are:
- Wet floors
- Torn carpeting
- Loose floorboards
- Poorly maintained sidewalks
- Potholes in a parking lot
- Defective staircases
- Recently mopped or waxed floors
- Icy and snowy weather
Some causes, like loose floorboards or defective stairs, are easily preventable with regular maintenance and attentive property owners. Others, like slick conditions due to snow and ice, are unpredictable. However, landlords and municipalities have a responsibility to ensure that visitors are safe by plowing roads, salting walkways and steps, and shoveling sidewalks.
Slip and fall accidents account for almost 9 million emergency room visits every year—making up almost a quarter of all ER visits. Falls caused more than 25,000 fatalities in 2009, making it the second-leading cause of unintentional death in homes and communities. Older Americans are most at risk, with more than 18,000 slip and fall-related deaths per year among those older than 65.
Types of Injuries in Premises Liability Cases
Injuries sustained in Premises Liability situations vary widely, depending on the location and severity of the incident. Slip and fall accidents and security guard assaults can result in broken bones or head and neck injuries. Unsafe buildings or construction sites can result in electric shocks or burns. Swimming pool and amusement park accidents can result in spinal cord injuries or even death.
Although some Premises Liability injuries are minor, others—such as spinal cord injuries—can result in lifelong conditions, meaning excessive hospital bills and decreased quality of life.
Statute of Limitations on Premises Liability
In the state of New Jersey, a plaintiff typically has two years to file suit from the date of incident, although the timeframe depends on certain other factors. Under the “discovery rule,” you can file suit outside of the two-year limitation if the injury took time to develop or be noticed. The clock would then start on the date that the plaintiff noticed—or should have reasonably noticed—the injury.
The statute of limitations can be complicated, so contact an experienced lawyer if you have questions about the timing of your injury.
Status of the Plaintiff
Anyone who enters a property falls into one of three categories:
- Invitee: someone who enters the property in response to an explicit or implied invitation. This includes customers in a shopping mall or visitors at a public pool. Invitees are entitled to the highest level of responsibility, and landowners must provide reasonable and ordinary care.
- Licensee: someone who enters the property for his or her own purposes with permission from the property owner, like as a social guest. While property owners may not be required to inspect for defects in this case, they are still required to inform licensees of dangerous conditions or unreasonable risks.
- Trespasser: someone who is not authorized to be on the property or enters without permission. Property owners do not have a duty to trespassers, other than to not cause intentional harm if the trespasser is discovered.
Property owners owe different levels of responsibility depending on whether the person is an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. But as a shopper, employee, or welcomed visitor, you are generally entitled to a high level of responsibility from the owner in terms of maintenance and safety standards.
People are injured on property more often than in motor vehicle accidents.
Proving Fault in Premises Liability Cases
Accidents and falls are a normal part of life, but when a property owner has a certain duty to maintain and repair hazardous conditions, he or she can be held liable for injuries.
In order for a property owner to be legally responsible for your injuries, one of the following statements must be true:
- The owner or an employee must have caused the hazardous situation (i.e. the spill, the torn carpet, etc.)
- The owner or an employee must have known about the hazardous situation and failed to act.
- The owner or an employee should have known about the hazardous situation because a “reasonable” person taking precautions would have discovered and fixed the problem.
The distinction of “reasonable” might seem arbitrary, but there are certain standards that courts follow. A property owner should make thorough, regular efforts to ensure safety and cleanliness. This means having a regular procedure for safety examinations, maintaining proper lighting, and ensuring that the building lives up to reasonable safety standards.
Damages for Premises Liability Cases
Victims in premises liability cases are entitled to certain types of compensation. The type and severity of the injury, as well as the specific circumstances of the incident, will dictate the amount you are eligible to receive.
Plaintiffs in premises liability cases are eligible for:
- Medical costs, including hospital bills, rehabilitative care, and the cost of ambulances, prescriptions, and medical supplies.
- Lost income and other expenses, including decreased earning capacity, housekeeping expenses, and more
- Pain and suffering, such as loss of companionship, inability to enjoy previous lifestyle, or lost of enjoyment of life
- Punitive damages, in cases of serious crimes or errors on the part of the property owner
Hire an Experienced Premises Liability Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of unsafe building conditions, lack of maintenance, or other premises liability conditions, contact us as soon as possible. Your initial consultation is free and confidential, and our experienced premises liability lawyers will help you get the compensation you deserve.