Premises liability is a legal theory that underpins many personal injury lawsuits. The theory begins with the idea that all property owners have certain duties to keep their premises safe. This means the owner must exercise reasonable care, inspecting the premises and repairing safety hazards, so as to minimize the likelihood that a visitor will be hurt in a foreseeable accident. If a landowner breaches this duty, and a visitor is injured as a result, the landowner can be held liable for the injured person’s damages.
The landowner’s duty is to take reasonable steps, not necessarily to do everything possible to avoid the risk of any accident.
To illustrate how this duty works in practice, imagine the following scenario: Carl owns a convenience store. He is sweeping up one morning when he notices that one of his refrigerators has developed an electrical problem that could cause severe shock to a customer who opens its door to grab a cold soft drink. Carl immediately shuts down the machine and puts a sign on it, warning customers to stay away from the refrigerator until it is repaired. He then calls a repair service.
In this case, a court would probably find that Carl had acted reasonably, and had therefore fulfilled his duty. If Carl had learned about the electrical problem and done nothing about it, he would have breached his duty. If a customer had then touched the refrigerator door and suffered injury, Carl could have been found liable for the customer’s damages.
There are many factors that can complicate premises liability cases. Many of these cases turn on the question of whether the landowner knew, or should have known, of a safety hazard, or whether their actions to repair the hazard were sufficient.
Other cases turn on questions about the behavior and status of the injured person. Kentucky law holds that owners have stronger duties toward some types of visitors than the do to others. For instance, if the owner is inviting the public to come inside as customers, the owner has a heightened degree of duty toward these customers. Owners typically have a much lower degree of duty to the safety of a trespasser.
Premises liability cases can be highly complex for both plaintiffs and defendants. These cases require the help of an experienced attorney.