Ask any property owner and he will most likely tell you that owning property brings responsibility. Not only is an owner responsible for maintaining the property like mowing the lawn and shoveling the driveway during the winter months, they are also responsible for making sure the property is free and clear of dangerous conditions that could cause a person coming onto the property to be injured.
If the property owner doesn’t keep the property free from dangers and someone is injured, the owner could be legally responsible for the injuries under the theory of premises liability. This is particularly important during the holiday season when many owners set up holiday displays that could pose safety risks.
What is Premises Liability?
The general theory of premises liability is that when a person owns, manages or otherwise controls of a property, such as a home or place of business, he can be held liable for injuries that occur on the property if he fails to ensure that the property is reasonably safe for those legally allowed to enter onto the premises.
Generally, the owner of the property is the one responsible for any injuries that occur on the property due to an unreasonably dangerous condition. However, the person responsible for injuries that occur on a property in Illinois, for example, may not be the owner but the one in control of the property like a construction contractor, maintenance or rental management company. Whether it’s the owner or another in control of the property, they must regularly inspect the property for dangerous conditions, make repairs as necessary, and remove or warn individuals of the hazard.
Liability to Injured Parties
When injuries occur, the injured party may be able to seek damages for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering that occur as a result of the injury. An injured party, however, must prove:
- Existence of a dangerous condition: The injured party must provide proof that there was a dangerous condition that existed on the property. This could be an obvious condition such as a loose railing, broken step or shattered Christmas lights on a sidewalk. However, the condition may be less apparent. For example, inadequate lighting in a parking lot known to attract criminal activity can be considered a dangerous condition, especially to holiday shoppers.
- Consciousness of the possessor: The injured party must also prove that the individual or entity in control of the property knew or should have known of the dangerous condition. An obviously broken railing leading to the front door and a slippery sidewalk after a snow fall are examples.
- Failure of the possessor to remedy, warn of the danger: Additionally, the injured party must show that the party in possession or control of the property failed to fix the dangerous condition or warn others of the danger. For instance, a business may be liable for failing to place a sign warning holiday shoppers of a slippery floor after it had been recently mopped.
- Occurrence of an injury: The injured party must also prove he or she sustained an injury as a result of the possessor’s failure to remedy the condition or adequately post a warning sign notifying of the hazardous condition.
Uniqueness of the Holiday Season: Tips to Keep Premises Safe
A crumbling stairway with a broken step, a slippery floor, giant hole in the ground or a cracked sidewalk are all examples of common conditions that owners have a duty to remedy. However, additional dangerous conditions develop during the holiday season, including lit candles, outside displays, indoor and outdoor lights, and trees.
It’s important for owners and occupiers to take note of a few tips to ensure that people are not harmed by the decorations. These include:
- Displaying decorations that contain illuminations like Christmas lights, wires, cables and extension cords, in a safe manner to avoid a fire;
- Clearing walkways and paths of decorations or ornaments so individuals do not trip and fall;
- Stabilizing decorations displayed atop roofs, in trees or otherwise above ground level so they don’t come loose and fall.
The holiday season is a time to celebrate. Residential homeowners, business owners, shopping malls, hotels or other retail outlets should be encouraged to decorate their property as they see fit. Taking a few small precautions, however, can really help in making the holiday season a joyous occasion.
Suffering an injury is not a welcomed present during the holiday season. If you or a loved one is injured due to the carelessness of a homeowner or business, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about your legal rights and options.