“Premises liability” is a legal concept where a property owner is held legally responsible if someone comes to harm on their property due to unsafe conditions.
Like most other personal injury cases, a premises liability case usually rests on negligence—meaning that if you were injured on someone’s property and want to sue them, you have to prove that the owner was negligent.
A broad range of scenarios can fall under the category of a premises liability case. Some examples include:
The burden of proof rests on the injured party when it comes to premises liability cases. Just because you happened to be injured on someone else’s property doesn’t automatically make the owner liable.
You have to demonstrate that the owner was negligent about some aspect of maintaining their property, and that this led to the injury.
“Negligence” means that the property owner did not use reasonable care when maintaining their property. Even if the property was in disrepair when you were injured, this doesn’t automatically mean that the owner was negligent or that the injury was caused by those specific conditions.
You have to demonstrate that the property owner was aware of the unsafe conditions, did not take any steps to repair them or warn people, and that this led to your injury.
This depends on a lot of factors—including the type of injury you suffered, the conditions on the property, and how those conditions may have contributed to your injury. It’s difficult to give blanket advice that will cover all factors.
However, just as a very general guideline, let’s take a look at a few specific examples of premises liability cases.
Let’s say you live in a large apartment building. One day, someone breaks into your apartment and you are injured during the home invasion.
Building owners are required to put reasonable security measures in place to prevent this kind of thing from happening. This may include functioning locks on all doors, a security guard on the ground floor, and so on.
If the lock on the front door was broken, the security guard was on break and there was no one to relieve him, or other security measures either failed or were never installed in the first place, you may be able to sue the building owner for negligence.
Imagine you live in a gated community that has a pool accessible to its residents. One day your young child falls into the swimming pool and suffers injuries.
In Georgia, as in most other states, there are laws requiring that swimming pool owners put a barrier around their pools so this kind of thing doesn’t happen. If the pool wasn’t properly fenced, you may be able to show that the owner was negligent.
Imagine you are boarding your horse at a barn. One day while visiting your horse, the barn owner’s dog bites your hand. You suffer a serious injury and need to have hand surgery. You want to sue the barn owner for the medical costs.
To prove that the owner was liable, you have to demonstrate the following:
Under Georgia law, the owner may also be liable if the dog was off its leash in an area where there was a leash ordinance in place, even if they did not have reason to believe the dog was dangerous.
In Georgia, there are four basic components to a premises liability case. These are as follows:
A duty to conform to a certain safety standard, or “duty of care.” Property owners have a general responsibility to keep their properties safe.
However, “safe” may mean different things on different kinds of properties. Generally there are laws and building codes regulating this at the state, local, and federal level.
For instance, a landlord of a residential property has to follow different requirements and standards than the owner of an automobile factory.
A breach of duty. The property owner knew about a hazard on their property, did not repair it, and did not warn others on the property about it.
A resulting injury. As the injured party, you (or your attorney) must demonstrate that your injury arose as a result of the responsible party’s negligence.
Resulting damages. Finally, you must also demonstrate that damages arose as a result of your injury—such as a significant injury, lasting chronic pain, loss of income, or medical expenses.
If there were no demonstrable damages and the injury is minor, there may be nothing to award.
The court will generally expect you to have exercised a reasonable amount of care as well. If a hazard was in plain sight and easy to avoid, the court may ask why you did not avoid the injury. It may decide you were engaging in reckless behavior yourself, and are at least partly responsible.
In Georgia, courts tend to weigh the negligence of those on all sides, including the person injured, to determine who was at fault. If you are found to be at least 50% culpable for the injury, you won’t be awarded damages.
Another factor in premises liability cases is whether the property owner owed you a duty of care.
“Duty of care” refers to the owner’s obligation to ensure the safety of their property. Depending on the type of property, the owner may have to follow specific rules, regulations, and code stipulations in order to do that.
Most building owners are also generally required to take reasonable care to protect people from criminal activity by ensuring proper security.
In Georgia, property owners owe duty of care to those implicitly or expressly invited onto the property. Depending on the type of property, this might include customers, lessees, patients, or ticket holders.
Property owners don’t owe the same level of care to those who are not expressly or implicitly invited, such as trespassers.
It’s not enough to prove that there was a hazard on a property that caused your injury. In order to prove negligence, you also have to demonstrate that the property owner knew about the hazard and did nothing to fix it or warn people.
In Georgia, property owners must have “actual or constructive knowledge” of a hazard in order to be proven negligent.
“Actual knowledge” refers to something the property owner consciously knew. “Constructive knowledge” refers to something that they reasonably should have known.
For instance, if it’s reasonable to expect the owner to perform regular inspections in the area where the hazard was found, the court may decide they had “constructive knowledge”—i.e. they should have known about the hazard, because they should have been conducting inspections.
All of this is very general guidance. Every premises liability case relies on very specific details about the property, the injury, and the circumstances surrounding it, and there are many subtleties in the law that can have an effect on the outcome.
If you have been injured on someone else’s property and believe you are liable for damages, you should seek out the help of a knowledgeable premises liability attorney.
About the Author Betty Nguyen Davis is an Atlanta attorney who solely focuses her practice on plaintiff’s personal injury work. Betty is consistently recognized by her peers as a top attorney in Georgia by Super Lawyers and Georgia Trend and is highly recommended by her clients as a aggressive and persistent, yet caring and accessible attorney.