Whether it be snow, freezing rain, sleet or hail, the wintry precipitation associated with colder temperatures can compound all sorts of issues: traffic accidents, commute times and slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents.
While slipping on the sidewalk may only leave a bruised ego for some, it can cause life-altering repercussions for others. Those affected by slip and falls or trip and falls may not be able to work for weeks, months, years or ever again depending on the severity of injury, and can have lasting health issues due to the incident. It often leaves people wondering if anyone can be held responsible.
These types of accidents are considered premises liability claims, which center on why the injured person was on the property and who is responsible for maintenance and warnings. Other types of premises liability claims include building or structure collapse, falling merchandise, swimming pool accidents, inadequate maintenance and inadequate security to name a few. Trip-and-fall and slip-and-fall cases are the ones our firm most often sees.
Different states have different laws concerning premises liability case requirements, but in Alabama, determining a valid claim begins with why the injured person was on the property. The duty of the owner depends on the reason. Everyone on someone else’s property is deemed to either be a business invitee, licensee, or trespasser.
The most obvious example of a business invitee is someone entering a store for goods or services, such as a restaurant or grocery store. Owners owe the highest duty of care to business invitees. They are required to exercise due care to keep the property in a safe condition and to warn invitees of any danger the owner knows or should have known about.
The next highest duty of care is owed to licensees. A licensee is someone who comes onto a property as a guest with either the knowledge or implied permission of the property owner. This typically takes the form of a person visiting a home, or when one visits a business for a non-business purpose. With licensees, the property owner must correct or warn about known dangers, whereas with invitees, the property owner must actively check for dangers.
While it might be easy to think no duty of care is owed to a trespasser, that’s legally not the case. Landowners have the duty to not intentionally injure an adult trespasser. This includes laying traps to catch someone on your property. Additionally, you may be held liable for a child being hurt on your property, even if the child is trespassing. If you have a pool, dangerous machinery, or other hazardous items on the property, it is important to take reasonable steps to ensure children are protected from those dangers.
One of the most effective ways to determine whether the landowner can be legally held responsible for the incident is to identify any codes or standards that may apply. Oftentimes building codes or safety standards, such as OSHA standards, ASTM standards, local building codes or ADA Codes, will provide you a strong argument if the landowner failed to meet the duty of care they owe you.