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Who is Responsible? Navigating the Complexities of Premises Liability Law

Who is Responsible? Navigating the Complexities of Premises Liability Law

Premises liability refers to the body of law that governs who may be held legally responsible when an injury occurs on someone’s property. Property owners have a duty to maintain safe conditions for people allowed on their property. If they fail to address hazards, don’t give adequate warning, or show negligence in maintaining conditions, they may share in liability if a guest or visitor is injured.

Proving Liability

In order to prove that a property owner is liable for an injury that happened on their premises, an injured person must show that:

  • The property owner owed them a duty of reasonable care
  • The owner breached that duty through action or inaction
  • The breach directly resulted in or contributed to their injury or damages

Levels of Duty Based on Visitor Status

The level of duty a property owner owes depends on the classification of the injured person in legal terms. Common designations include:

  • Trespasser – Someone on a property without permission. Property owners are only liable for deliberate or reckless injuries.
  • Licensee – Social guests. Property owners must warn of known hazards.
  • Invitee – Business visitors. Property owners must make reasonable inspections and repairs of a property. Highest duty of care.

Factors Affecting Liability Determination

Determining legal responsibility involves assessing many factors on a case-by-case basis, including the specifics of each unique situation. No two premises liability claims involve identical circumstances. The particular attributes of the property, the nature of the hazard, the injured party’s profile, and sequences of relevant events make the judgment quite situational. Still, while individual facts vary, overarching standards help define reasonable care and culpability across different property injury cases involving invitees, licensees, and trespassers.

Factors weighed include:

Type of property

Commercial properties tend to have a higher duty than residential homes. Business owners are expected to make more comprehensive efforts to maintain safety as part of operations. Homeowners receive more benefit-of-the-doubt around knowledge of hazards.

Location of injury

More duty for known hazards than undiscovered dangers. Owners must address dangers they know or should reasonably know about. However, they are not strictly liable for undetected hazards without prior incident.

Nature of hazard

Was it open and obvious or concealed? Property owners have higher liability for concealed, deceptive, or obscure danger areas versus obvious ones. Still, even some visible hazards may be considered unreasonably risky if left uncontrolled.

Injured person’s actions

Their behavior factors into liability. Those aware of a hazard who proceed voluntarily or carelessly may share in accountability for injury. Children, however, face a lower expectation to recognize danger compared to adults.

Defenses Against Premises Liability

While property owners have a responsibility to maintain safety, they also have defenses that may release them or reduce liability, such as:

  • Open and obvious dangers that should have been recognized. If a reasonable person should have noticed a conspicuous hazard, the property owner’s expectation to warn diminishes. Still, some attractions to danger may override what is considered “obvious.”
  • Lack of actual or constructive knowledge about a hazard. Owners with no prior incident or reasonable likelihood to know of a danger typically have limited accountability. However, they still must make reasonable efforts to identify risks.
  • Lack of control over the area where the injury occurred. Injuries in spaces maintained exclusively under tenant control can shift liability claims. However, poor delineation of public versus private areas makes liability unclear.
  • Comparative negligence of injured person. Reckless visitor behaviors that largely caused their own injury will reduce the owner’s share of legal responsibility. Even so, egregious hazards may still warrant partial premises liability.

Managing Risk Through Due Diligence

Property owners should always exercise due care and conduct regular inspections and maintenance to identify and remedy potential hazards proactively. Failing to address known dangers raises liability if someone gets injured later.

Using Signs, Warnings, and Barriers

When hazards cannot be fully eliminated, property owners can use warning signs, notices, or physical barriers to alert those lawfully present and discourage access to dangerous areas.

Verifying Insurance Coverage

Property owners should verify they have adequate premises liability coverage or umbrella insurance to protect their assets in the event of a costly injury claim or lawsuit.

The Complexity of Determining Accountability

Premises liability law remains highly complex with many situational factors affecting judgments of appropriate responsibility. If you have suffered an injury on someone’s property, you may have a claim. Talk to one of our experienced premises liability lawyers for advice. You can visit our offices at the following locations:

  • 2005 West Main St. Tupelo, MS 38801
  • 406 Galleria Dr., Suite 7 Oxford, MS 38655
  • 1671 Lelia Dr., Suite B, Jackson, MS 39216
  • 5100 Poplar Ave., Suite 2700 Memphis, TN 38137

Call us today for a free consultation on (888) 484-1476.

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2005 West Main St. Tupelo, MS 38801


406 Galleria Dr., Suite 7 Oxford, MS 38655


1671 Lelia Dr Suite B, Jackson, MS 39216


5100 Poplar Ave., Suite 2700 Memphis, TN 38137


905 Main Street, Columbus MS 39701

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