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Does a property owner own a duty to everyone on their property?

In last week's blog, the discussion focused on whether remedial measures taken after an accident could be used against a property owner. While these subsequent remedial measures may generally be inadmissible in a negligence trial, there are exceptions that apply to this general rule, including in situations where a person is disputing whether or she owned or was in control of the property at issue.

The issue of ownership and control is important because it has to deal with who can be held liable in a premises liability case. Typically, a property owner is responsible for maintaining a reasonably safe environment on the premises. If the property owner fails to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition, the owner can be held liable in the event someone is injured on the property.

In addition to property owners, there may be others who can also be held liable in a premises liability accident. For instance, a non-owner resident may be held liable under certain circumstances, if that person was in control of the premises and had a duty to keep it in a reasonably safe condition.

Interestingly, it is not just the status of the property owner that matters in a premises liability action. The status of the person visiting the property also has an impact on the case, because it affects what duty is owed by the property owner or resident.

Visitors may be classified as invitees if they are invited onto the property. Others may be considered licensees, which means the person enters the property for his or her own purpose, but it present at the consent of the property owner. Another category of visitors are social guests, who are also welcome visitors on the property. This is in contrast to trespassers, who enter the property without having a right to do so.

These legal classifications can make a big difference to whether a property owner can be held liable for injuries, because property owners typically only must take reasonable steps to assure the safety of the premises toward certain categories like invitees. Accordingly, if a person is a trespasser, the owner may not have a duty to that individual. Each case is different, however, and therefore individuals should understand how these legal classifications may apply in their case.

Source: Findlaw, "Premises liability: who is responsible," accessed on Feb. 14, 2015

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