People get injured on their own property all the time. In fact, your home is probably the most dangerous place in the world for you, because you spend so much time there. But if you get injured on your own property, there isn’t much you need to do beyond seeking medical attention.
What if, however, you are on someone else’s property? What happens then?
Getting hurt while on premises other than your own opens up a wide world of legal issues. This is especially true if you were injured due to a hazard or unsafe condition that the owner either knew about or would reasonably be expected to know about.
Or, there may be legal issues if your injury is a result of the owner’s negligence and recklessness.
Either way, it’s not as simple as just seeking medical attention. There could be very real legal issues of liability that need to be sorted out – and these issues may result in a court date. You may have medical bills that need to be paid. And you may desire compensation for your pain and suffering, which is well within your rights.
I hope you don’t get hurt while on someone else’s property, but if you do, here’s what you need to know and what you should do next.
A (Brief) Primer on Premises Liability
A case involving an injury while on someone else’s property – public or private – falls under a category of law called premises liability. This basically covers injuries caused by unsafe conditions or dangerous methods of operation that could’ve been reasonably and foreseeably avoided by the owner (and, in some cases, the renter as well).
Most people think of slip and fall cases when they hear premises liability. You probably have heard about these: someone slips on a puddle of water in a grocery store and breaks a bone. These can be very high-profile cases, particularly if they involve a national chain, but most premises liability cases aren’t nearly as notorious.
An owner of a piece of property has an obligation to protect anyone on that property from hazards and dangerous conditions that they either know about or should have known about. The owner may have known about a danger and failed to fix it. Or, they may not have placed adequate warning about the danger. (Remember those slip and fall cases in grocery stores? Many have been caused by the store’s employees failing to place warning signs around wet floors.)
For example, you’re at someone’s home and there’s a loose step on a staircase. You slip on the step and break your leg in a fall. The owner would then be liable for your injury.
Keep in mind, though, that an owner doesn’t have an obligation to protect you from a hazard that a reasonable person should be able to expect and avoid, such as if the hazard is obvious. They also have no liability if the person who was injured was hurt through a reckless and negligent act of their own. This prevents abuse from people who enter someone else’s property with the full intention of creating an accident so they can sue the owner and get paid. As you can imagine, the courts frown upon that.
Still, most premises liability cases that get settled or win in court were the result of something wrong with the property – either with the property itself or through unsafe conditions – that the owner was responsible for and did not adequately fix or provide sufficient warning.
Taking Action After an Injury
So, what happens if you’re on someone else’s property and you get hurt?
The first step is to get medical attention. Even if you don’t think you’re hurt, or if you don’t think your injuries are that bad, you should probably still see a medical professional. That’s because many injuries aren’t readily apparent at the beginning. They may take time to develop. A hairline fracture, for example, may go undetected until it turns into a full-fledged break.
Of course, to help your case, document as much as possible at the time the injury occurs, if you can. That means taking note of any witnesses who can provide testimony about what happened. They can provide crucial information about the state of the environment you were in when you were hurt. Anything from the condition of the floor you were walking on to the lighting can make a big difference.
Also, take pictures if you’re able, or have someone else do so for you.
If you’re on commercial property – such as at a place of business – an incident report will probably be generated by the business. It’s important to obtain a copy of this report – just do not sign it. The business will probably take immediate steps to try and insulate itself from liability, and you don’t want to say or sign anything that suggests you agree with their version of events. This will be very important later on during settlement talks and if/when your case goes to trial.
I’ll restate this because it’s crucial: don’t make or sign any statements after your injury. Refrain from talking to the property owners or managers about the incident, short of requesting medical attention.
Following the accident, you should contact a premises liability lawyer as soon as possible. There are a few good reasons as to why. First, you’ll probably be contacted soon after the accident by a claims adjuster working for the insurance company that insures the property where your injury happened. Do not talk to them without an attorney’s guidance. They don’t work for you. They work for the insurance company, which bears the financial burden of paying for your injuries. That’s why they’ll try to get you to settle as quickly as possible for as little as possible.
The second reason is because your case may have to go to trial. You may not be comfortable with that, but it’s a reality, especially if you have costly medical bills to pay and you are put out of work for a while. A premises liability attorney can help you document everything, prepare your case, and protect your rights under the law.
Finally, document any and all treatment you’ve received as a result of your injury. Get statements and records from the doctors you’ve seen. If they recommend physical therapy, surgery, rehabilitation, or any additional care, make a note of that.
Do You Need to Hire a Premises Liability Lawyer?
You won’t need to hire an attorney for every case. Many premises liability cases are handled without lawyers. But at the beginning, you can’t possibly know that. That’s why it always makes sense to at least call an attorney to get advice – it’ll only help you later on, if/when you actually have a case and want to seek compensation.
If you decide to talk to an attorney – which I obviously recommend, being an attorney – don’t waste time. There are statutes of limitations for these types of cases that can easily run out if you’re not careful. Plus, the longer you wait, the harder it is to build your case and collect evidence and testimony that will help you win. Remember: you have to prove that the owner is liable. The owner doesn’t have to prove he or she wasn’t. So, the burden of proof is on you and your attorney. Acting quickly is strongly recommended.
The best way to know if you need a premises liability attorney for your case is to ask one. I make it a point to be very honest with people who come to me for advice. The last thing I want to do is waste your time or my time by telling you you have a case when you probably don’t. Find an attorney who will shoot straight with you, and you’ll spare yourself a lot of stress pursuing a case that likely won’t end in success.
The next time you’re on someone else’s property, please be careful. Know that some owners will be negligent and irresponsible, and you may be hurt as a result. If that happens, there are people who will help take care of you. Just know what to do in case you’re ever in that unfortunate situation.