Your Best Chance of Recovery When You Are Hurt on Business Premises
As a general rule, all property owners—commercial and residential—have a duty to maintain the premises so as to minimize the risk of injury to anyone legally visiting the property. The duty is not absolute—the property owner does not have to prevent any injury whatsoever. The duty is to use reasonable care. Furthermore, the duty is not necessarily to remedy any dangerous situation. It may be sufficient if the owner provides reasonable notice of the danger, so that visitors can take action to minimize the risk. It may also be sufficient if the owner reasonably restricts access, so that visitors cannot go where the danger is present.
The duty is owed not only by owners of property but by anyone who exercises control over property. For example, a property manager, or even a tenant, may be liable for injuries suffered when there is a breach of the duty.
The Duty with Respect to Commercial Property—The “Status” of the Visitor
For centuries, the legal duty owed by the owner/controller of property varied based on the “status” of the visitor. Under that approach, the highest duty was owed to a person considered to be an “invitee,” a lesser duty was owed to anyone deemed a “licensee,” and no duty was owed to trespassers. An invitee is a person who enters property for the benefit of the owner, whereas a licensee enters the property for his or her own amusement (e.g., a guest at a party or visiting friend). Unlike invitees and licensees, trespassers are those who enter property without the permission of the owner. Under these legal definitions, those present on commercial property are almost always referred to as invitees.
In those states that still adhere to the traditional legal principles, a business invitee is a visitor who comes on commercial premises to enter into a business relationship with the owner of the property. There’s no requirement that a transaction actually be entered into, though—it’s the purpose of the entry that matters. An employee of the landowner is usually considered a business invitee as well.
The duty owed by an owner or controller of property to an invitee generally confers liability if the owner/controller either knew or reasonably should have known about the dangerous condition (e.g., an uneven floor or spilled liquid) and taken action either to prevent the hazard or warn visitors of its existence. That typically requires that the owner conduct reasonable inspections to ascertain whether any foreseeable hazards are present.
The Doctrine of Reasonable Care
Approximately half of the states have abandoned the legal concepts of invitee and licensee, replacing them with a “reasonable care” standard. Under the reasonable care standard, courts tend to treat all property visitors equally, including trespassers, and simply ask whether the property owner’s actions were reasonable.
Ensuring You Have the Best Chance of Recovery When Injured on Commercial Property
When you have been hurt on commercial property and file a lawsuit seeking damages, one of the most common defenses raised by property owners/controllers is contributory or comparative negligence. It’s important to understand, particularly in states that apply the reasonable care standard, that the court also will consider the conduct of the injured party—specifically, the reasonableness of their conduct—when determining liability. Accordingly, whenever you visit commercial property, it’s imperative that you pay attention, obey all posted signs, and not engage in acts that might be considered unreasonable. Don’t skirt barricades or tape to take a shortcut. It may even be considered unreasonable to attempt to climb steps that have a significant accumulation of snow and/or ice.
In the aftermath of a slip-and-fall injury on commercial property, your first course of action should be to obtain the medical attention you need. In most instances, it’s probably in your best interests to remain immobile until emergency medical professionals arrive and examine you. You may feel like you can walk away under your own power, but you also may be feeling a rush of adrenalin, which can mask serious pain and injury.
Even if you do leave the scene on your own, go to the emergency room at a local hospital, stop by an urgent care facility, or schedule an appointment with your personal physician as soon as possible. Carefully explain exactly what happened, and ask the doctor to put their assessment in writing. Be sure to tell the medical professionals about anything that seems out of the ordinary—not just the obvious injuries. Often, the most debilitating injuries are the ones that take a while to fully manifest.
Gather as much information as possible. Take pictures of the scene of the accident or anything else related to your slip-and-fall, including your injuries, the weather conditions at the time, or any defects or dangerous conditions that existed. If there were witnesses to your accident, get their names and contact information so your attorney can get a statement from them.
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