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What Is Premises Liability?

Goldstein Heslop Steele Clapper Oswalt & Smith Dec. 10, 2021

The trip to a store, a walk across the parking lot or even a visit to an apartment can lead to a slip or fall or other accident that causes injury, which may be serious at times. Where a property owner did not meet their legal responsibility for keeping the property safe and preventing personal injury, the victim may file a premises liability lawsuit in Pennsylvania.

Negligence and Reasonable Care

Property owners and managers face liability for accidents that took place on their property if the injured person can prove that they did not exercise reasonable care to prevent injury or harm to another person. Their behavior is compared to what a reasonably prudent person does to detect the unsafe condition at the property and correct that problem. Failure to meet these duties is also known as negligence.

Owners and managers must take reasonable steps to keep the property safe. These actions depend on the dangers that the public expects to face. Elevators, for example, must be kept in good repair and common areas such as lobbies and hallways should be clean and kept free of hazards. This duty also governs nearby areas that are generally under the owner’s control such as sidewalks in front of their property.

Property owners and managers may have more responsibility over commercial property and their tenants’ negligence because of their greater control over the property. Owners and managers can alter the property, build entrances and stairways or ramps and install elevators.

Property managers or owners are responsible for injuries caused by hazards that they knew or should have known about when they did not fix them or provide adequate warning. Physical inspections should routinely take place in areas here people may suffer injury.

A building owner, for example, may be liable when a visitor slips on a puddle in an entryway that was not mopped up, there was no mat and no warning was provided.

Or a customer was struck by a car in a dark area in parking lot because of several burned out bulbs in lighting in that area and the motorist could not see the customer. The property owner could face a lawsuit for negligence by not conducting an inspection to replace any burned out bulbs or having an outside service perform this task.

Owners and managers, however, may limit or assign this liability to tenants. Responsibility for certain areas, such as a sidewalk, may be assigned to a tenant in a smaller commercial property. An indemnification clause in a lease may hold the landlord harmless if the tenant was negligent.

Dangers and Risks

In some cases, property owners have the only liability for accidents. These include construction or demolition and other dangerous situations. They may also be liable, at least partially, for risky situations that that they can control, avoid, or transfer such as crime.

Property managers must protect the public, their employees and tenants from crimes occurring on or near their property. They face substantial liability if they do not take precautions. Financial liability has been as high as $1 million in these type of cases.

Managers or owners are particularly responsible for crimes committed by their employees that harms another employee, a tenant or visitor. They may be responsible if the crime was committed when the employee represented or appeared to represent their employer even if the actions were prohibited by the employer. The manager or owner is also liable if they did not utilize adequate screening and hiring procedures.

These are just a few of the dangerous situations that can exist on a property. In addition to slip and falls and crime, people may be injured by an animal or unsafe chemicals. An attorney can help gather evidence of a building owner or manager’s negligence and help assure that a lawsuit is timely filed.