Understanding Property Owner Liability

Aptly named, property owner liability deals exclusively with the degree to which a landowner is responsible, or liable, for the injury sustained by visitors to the premises. The degree of responsibility can be very low, as is the case when the 3rd party is deemed a trespasser. When the property owner stands to gain a commercial benefit from the entrant’s visit, however, a much higher level of responsibility arises.

Property owner liability has the ability to make sole proprietors, partners, and entire corporations responsible for the injury or hardship suffered by another. The stakes are high, as injured Plaintiffs may recover large monetary settlements for pain, suffering, negligence, emotional distress, medical expenses, and even lost wages (in which the property owner compensates the injured Plaintiff for each work day that is missed due to the injury).

Property Owner Liability: 7 Facts You Need to Know

1. Property owners are liable for the injury of any persons who are invited on to their property for the purpose of conducting a commercial transaction.

Property owners owe the highest duty of care to each individual who enters their property with the intention of conducting a commercial transaction. Such guests are labeled invitees, and U.S. law holds that property owners owe these individuals certain duties in virtue of inviting them onto their property to conduct business. It is important to note that invitees need only enter the property with the intention of conducting a transaction. Therefore, liability may still arise when an individual enters a storefront, purchases nothing, and sustains an injury while exiting.

2. As a property owner, you owe certain duties to your commercial guests (invitees).

Because invitees are welcomed onto the premises for the purpose of conducting business, property owners owe them certain duties to ensure their safety. Generally, property owners must:

  1. Regularly inspect the premises;
  2. Find dangerous conditions;
  3. Warn invitees of dangerous conditions; and
  4. Repair dangerous conditions to the extent that a repair is feasible.

3. Failure to fully perform your may constitute negligence, resulting in liability.

Failure to fully perform the duties outlined above may constitute negligence. Consequently, the property owner may become liable for any accident that occurs as a result of their failure to perform inspections, alert guests dangerous conditions, and make reasonable repairs.

4. A property owner may become liable via omission, or failure to act.

Liability via omission occurs when the property owner recognizes a dangerous condition but does nothing about it. Generally, this instance occurs when a property owner fails to perform the 4th duty discussed in #2 above. However, liability by omission has a broad application that also applies to the property owner’s agents, or employees. In this way, it can actually render a property owner liable when an employee fails to act.

5. Property owners who hire individuals to work as employees are liable for their employees’ negligence.

In certain circumstances, the concept of vicarious liability makes one individual liable for the tortious acts of another. Vicarious liability is only applicable in the context of certain business relationships, like that of the employer-employee. In such a case, the property owner is vicariously liable for the negligence of each employee.

Important: Property owners are smart to educate employees on the concepts of negligence as well as liability. It is often the case that property owners become liable for accidents that result after a new, young, or otherwise inexperienced employee fails to act properly.

6.  Property owners who hire individuals / entities to work as independent contractors are not necessarily liable for their negligence.

The relationship between an employer and an independent contractor is significantly different from the employer-employee relationship described above. Independent contractors operate as separate entities; therefore, liability for their actions cannot be vicariously conferred upon their employer (the property owner).

Important: Certain situations can, in fact, make employers liable for the negligence of independent contractors. Such situations may include ultra hazardous activities (i.e. blasting with dynamite) for which the employer (property owner) assumes a certain degree of responsibility. The degree to which liability is assigned to either employer or independent contractor may vary depending on the jurisdiction.

7. Property owners are liable for accidents that happen as the result of a condition they should have known about.

Finally, property owners may find themselves liable for any accident that results from a dangerous condition they should have known about. To determine what “should” and “should not” have been known, U.S. courts use a subjective test called the Standard of Reason. The test simply asks: Would a reasonable person, under similar circumstances, know about the condition that caused the accident? If the answer is ‘yes’, then the property owner is deemed liable.

Property Owners: Protect Yourselves from Liability

Property owners: Get proactive in preventing liability. Shop commercial-grade floor mats, custom signage, handrails, and wall and corner guards online at Eaglemat.com, and retrofit your facility with essential products for maintaining visitor safety.

For product specifications and additional information, call Eagle Mat client services at 1-877-333-1018.