Here’s a horrifying scenario: Imagine you are in someone else’s home when the floor collapses and you are badly injured. Your medical bills threaten to wipe out all your savings and you are unable to return to work. The effects carry into almost every aspect of your life: Because of injuries to your back, you can’t even hold your infant grandchild.
In legal terms, these effects are known as damages.
Can you hold the homeowner liable for your damages? You may be able to do so, using the legal theory of premises liability.
The basics of premises liability
Premises liability stems from the law of negligence. The law of negligence holds that we all have a duty to minimize the risk we will cause harm to others. For instance, when you’re driving, you owe a duty to others on the road to drive reasonably safely so as to minimize the risk of hurting them in an accident. When we fail in this duty, we commit negligence. If our negligence harms another person, we can be held liable for the resulting damages.
Likewise, property owners have certain duties to avoid unreasonable risks to people who visit their property. The extent of their duties depends upon the circumstances, such as the nature of the risk or the type of visitor. A store owner who invites the public to shop at their store has a heightened duty to keep the premises reasonably safe. When they find safety hazards, they should repair them as soon as possible or do whatever a reasonable store owner would do under similar circumstances.
When property owners fail in this duty, they commit negligence. If their negligence causes harm to someone else, they may be held liable for the injured person’s damages.
That said, it’s also important to remember that visitors have duties to their own safety. A store shopper, for example, should act as any reasonable person would to avoid slipping or tripping on hazards on the shop’s floor.
Every state has its own laws governing premises liability. The premises liability laws in North Dakota and Minnesota are similar in many ways, but they have some key differences. For instance, North Dakota law specifically exempts property owners from liability in cases involving the public’s use of their land for recreation.
Beyond the fine points of state law, every premises liability case comes down to the exact details of the incident.
For this reason, a person who thinks they might have a premises liability claim would be wise to discuss the details of their case with a professional who has experience with similar cases.