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Premises Liability – A Common, but Challenging, Area of the Law

Premises liability is a bit of a strange duck in the legal arena, and proving slip, trip and fall injuries is sometimes hard work.

Oddly enough, premises liability deals with personal injuries. On the surface one would think it is about a landowner, and obviously the conduct of the property owner needs to be examined. However, this area deals with cases involving injuries to others while on the property owner’s premises.

These injuries are most commonly slip and fall, or trip and fall incidents, but may also involve cases where the property owner has failed to provide adequate security against known hazards; for example, criminal conduct – where there is a history of criminal activity that the property owner knew about or should have known about.

The key to dealing with premises liability is that a property owner (public or private) is, to a certain extent, responsible for what happens on that particular property. The bottom line is that the courts hold that landowners have a duty/obligation to make sure their premises and the approaches to the premises are safe for their business customers (often called business invitees).

Property owners owe a lesser duty to licensees, who are often social guests, which normally consists of a duty to warn them of known dangers. While this may sound fairly straightforward, it rarely is, as Georgia super lawyer, Stephen Ozcomert of Atlanta, knows fully well.

“Premises liability cases are actually referred to as slip and fall cases; or slip, trip and fall cases,” explained Ozcomert. Certainly a large number of the cases Ozcomert handles deal with falls on wet floors, diving head first down a set of faulty stairs or tripping over uneven sidewalks. However, just as many of his cases deal with other aspects of this area of the law.

“Premises liability could just as well deal with an old residential building whose apartments have been painted with lead based paint,” said Ozcomert. Lead paint is dangerous and has been known to cause physical and developmental defects in children. In this instance, a premises liability lawsuit would be likely if the landlord or manager knew about the danger, but did nothing about it – in other words, was negligent.

To prove negligence in these cases there must be three elements present: that the property owner had a duty (knew or should have known about a property hazard), that they breached that duty (didn’t fix the hazard), and there was a causal link between the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries.

“Personal injury cases deal mostly with negligence, and premises liability is no exception to that rule,” commented Ozcomert. Negligence in premises liability cases would be a test of whether or not the landowner or property owner was indeed responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries.

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