Premises liability law is the legal obligation all Pennsylvania property owners have to maintain their property according to safety standards. Premises liability law generally comes into play when a legal visitor to the property suffers a preventable injury due to the owner’s negligence.
Slip and fall accidents are one of the most common scenarios for these cases. Still, the premises liability umbrella covers a wide range of dangerous situations, like dog bites, swimming accidents, or inadequate security.
Regardless of what caused their premises liability injury, victims may incur great physical pain, substantial medical bills, lost wages, and even long-term health challenges. Under Pennsylvania's premises liability laws, the property's owner or caretaker may be held legally responsible for covering the victim's damages.
However, property owners don't have unlimited liability, and you must meet certain conditions to win your claim. An experienced premises liability lawyer can investigate the accident, gather evidence of the owner's negligence, and build a strong compensation case.
The Threshold for Negligence Under Premises Liability Law
Premises liability in Pennsylvania centers on whether the property's owners or caretakers made a reasonable effort to keep the property safe. The liability threshold shows that the victim's injuries were preventable and happened because of negligence, rather than a freak accident. Some factors can limit the victim's eligibility for filing a premises liability claim, including whether they had a lawful reason for being on the property.
Pennsylvania’s premises liability laws classify visitors to the property as:
- Invitees: Anyone on the premises at the express or implied invitation of the owner or manager is an invitee. Tenants are invitees to the home or building where they live, customers are invitees of the businesses they patronize, and patients are invitees to the facilities where they seek medical care. Property owners owe invitees a high liability standard. Owners must inspect the premises to identify and fix potential hazards.
- Licensees: A person with permission to enter the premises, but for their benefit, is a licensee—for example, a door-to-door salesman, an employee for the utility company that accesses your property to fix the county water main, or someone who just enters your supermarket to use the bathroom. Social guests are also generally considered licensees, such as neighbors that stop by for a visit. Property owners have a lesser duty to keep their licensees safe, but they can still be held liable in some situations. For example, they have to warn their licensees of any hazards on the property that create an unreasonable risk.
- Trespassers: A trespasser is anyone that enters the premises illegally. Pennsylvania property owners have virtually no legal responsibility to keep trespassers safe or compensate them for the injuries they suffer on the property. The law, however, sets a much higher liability standard for children. Owners must take reasonable measures to prevent a foreseeable accident, especially with elements that can attract a child to enter the property without permission, such as a swimming pool. Property owners also have to refrain from injuring trespassers on purpose.
If you were on the property legally and suffered a serious injury, winning a premises liability claim will depend on proving the responsible party's negligence. That means showing that the owners or caretakers could have prevented your injuries if they fulfilled their duty of care to maintain basic safety standards on the property.
The threshold for establishing negligence in Pennsylvania has four elements:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care: The property owner had a legal obligation to avoid causing you harm.
- The at-fault party violated this duty: The property owner failed to use reasonable care by not shoveling the sidewalk after heavy snow and creating the conditions for a slip-and-fall accident. As part of establishing this element, your premises liability attorney would also have to prove that the property owner either knew about the hazard in time to rectify the problem or should reasonably have known about it.
- The at-fault party’s negligence caused your injuries: A successful premises liability claim will prove that the property owner’s negligence was the direct cause of the victim’s injuries.
- The injuries that resulted from this negligence led to specific damages: Your premises liability attorney has to demonstrate the value of your claim by showing all the damages you’ve suffered, such as hospital bills and intangible costs like emotional distress.
Common Examples of Premises Liability Cases
Under Pennsylvania's premises liability laws, property owners and caretakers must take broad responsibility for the safety of legal visitors. Whether the property is a business, residential building, private home, or municipality-owned office, a wide range of dangerous situations can cause a preventable injury.
Some examples of situations that can result in a premises liability claim:
Slip and Fall Accidents
These dangerous and sudden accidents happen when the victim walks over an unstable surface that causes them to slip or trip and fall hard to the ground. Slip and fall incidents can cause devastating injuries like broken bones, dislocated hips, torn ligaments, spinal cord damage, and even traumatic brain injuries.
The conditions that cause a slip and fall can include:
- Defective stair rails
- Cracked, uneven pavement
- Torn, loose, or raised carpeting
- Wet or oily floors
- Accumulation of ice or snow on the sidewalk
Pennsylvania law holds dog owners legally responsible if their dog bites or mauls someone in an unprovoked attack. The liability burden is slightly different depending on whether the dog has a history of aggressive behavior, which means the owner legally needed to take extra measures to prevent their pet from harming others. Dogs can cause horrific injuries, especially to children, leading to permanent scars, nerve damage, bacterial infections, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
All businesses with a lot of foot traffic, with people coming and going, must have basic security measures to prevent crime. Some examples are hotels, apartment buildings, shopping malls, concert venues, and medical facilities.
Security is generally centered on security access to the premises using precautions like surveillance cameras, security guards, and locked doors. If these measures fail or employees don't follow them adequately, it can lead to a serious crime on the premises, such as robbery or assault. The crime victim may be entitled to file a premises liability claim.
Elevators malfunction much more often than they should, causing unsuspecting passengers serious injuries or even death.
Elevators that don’t receive proper maintenance or that have defective parts can begin to breakdown, increasing the likelihood of an accident such as:
- Defective doors that can’t detect the presence of an obstacle, causing them to hit or trap passengers
- Malfunctioning elevators travel at excessive speeds, making abrupt stops that cause passengers to slam against the sides or floor.
- Power failures or faulty wiring leave passengers trapped between floors.
- “Misleveling,” which happens when the elevator doesn’t come to a stop in a level position, causing passengers to trip while trying to enter or exit
- The elevator door opens without the elevator, leading to a tragedy when the passenger falls down the shaft.
Inadequate Fire Safety
Preventing fires and having proper fire safety measures in place is one of Pennsylvania property owners’ most important legal obligations. Violations of the fire code are explicitly considered a form of negligence. That means property owners that aren’t in compliance can be held liable for a fire on their premises that causes serious injuries.
Illegal fire hazards include:
- Inaccessible or blocked fire exits
- Missing or defective smoke detectors
- Missing or defective fire alarms
- Missing or defective sprinkler systems
- Faulty electrical wiring
- Illegal open fires, such as outdoor grills or a rooftop firepit
Damages You Can Pursue In A Premises Liability Claim
The injuries that result from a property owner’s negligence can be physically, emotionally, and financially devastating. In the case of catastrophic injuries like limb amputation or spinal cord damage, the consequences for victims and their families will likely be lifelong.
If someone else's carelessness hurt you, you deserve fair restitution for your damages. This is why Pennsylvania's premises liability laws hold businesses and individuals responsible for the harm they cause.
Depending on the details of your case, the types of compensation you can pursue with a premises liability claim may include:
After a serious injury, victims will often face a significant financial burden from receiving medical care, especially if they require long hospitalization and ongoing treatments like physical therapy. The medical bills for treating catastrophic injuries would be even more astronomical, with additional costs like at-home nursing care or prosthetic devices to accommodate a disability.
Your premises liability attorney would also demonstrate other ways the injury has impacted your finances, such as lost wages from being unable to work.
Some of the most substantial damages that come with getting seriously injured won't have a specific price tag. Pennsylvania courts recognize these physical, emotional, and quality-of-life costs as resulting from the property owner's negligence. A premises liability claim can include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment, and inconvenience from having a disability.
Wrongful Death Damages
The most serious premise liability cases will involve fatal injuries, leaving behind heartbroken family members. A preventable death that happens because of negligence is known as a “Wrongful Death,” and the victim’s close relatives would be eligible to pursue compensation for their damages. A wrongful death claim can include medical bills, funeral, and burial expenses, lost income the deceased can no longer contribute to the family, and the non-economic costs of grief.
In some premises liability cases, the evidence will point to an extreme level of recklessness from the property owners. They may have ignored multiple warnings about a hazardous situation or committed systematic safety violations that led to a tragedy. Punitive damages are an extra form of compensation awarded by the courts to punish the liable party rather than compensate the victim.
How a Premises Liability Attorney Can Help
Premises liability claims entail countless, complex factors. The circumstances of the accident and the property owner's awareness of the hazard are central to proving liability under the law, so these issues tend to get very contentious. Most premises liability claims will resolve through the at-fault party's insurance company, which is notorious for paying as little as possible.
A skilled premises liability lawyer handling your claim can make all the difference in proving the property owner’s liability and presenting the strongest case possible.
Some of the essential steps your attorney will take to help you recover fair compensation for your damages:
- Investigate the incident: When proving negligence in a premises liability claim, no detail is too small to matter. Your attorney’s team will review all the available evidence and consult with experts to substantiate the causes of your injuries.
- Demonstrate the extent of your damages: A premises liability attorney can document every way that your injury has affected your life using hospital bills, employment records, and medical evaluations that detail the long-term impact of your injuries.
- Negotiate with insurance companies: Premises liability claims are likely to settle out of court, often after a long negotiation process with several counteroffers. Your attorney’s job is to prepare a persuasive case that makes the insurer want to offer a fair settlement rather than risk their chances in a court of law. Your premises liability attorney can also escalate the case to trial if necessary.
After a serious premises liability accident, many injured victims will have to fight an uphill battle to get compensated for all the damages they’ve suffered due to someone else’s negligence. An experienced premises liability attorney can help you level the playing field and improve your chances of recovering fair restitution. Contact us today to see how we can benefit you!