Understanding the Basic Duty of Care in Premises Liability Cases

Without a law degree, many people don’t understand what legal terms like “duty of care,” mean in the context of slip and fall, trip and fall, and injuries that occur due to dangerous conditions in stores and apartment buildings.

Essentially, anyone who owns, leases, occupies, or otherwise controls a property is responsible for keeping the property in a reasonably safe condition. If they fail to use reasonable care to do so, they are negligent.

Factors that help jury members decide whether or not a defendant exercised reasonable care include:

  • The location of the property
  • The likelihood that someone would come on to the property
  • The likelihood of harm
  • The probable seriousness of such harm
  • Whether the defendant knew or should have known about the hazardous condition on their property
  • Whether protecting someone from this dangerous condition was difficult or not
  • The extent of the defendant’s control over the property and its conditions

For each of these factors, and others, jurors are instructed to apply the facts of the case and determine the negligence or culpability of the business owner. For example, if the alleged dangerous condition is the lack of railing in a nightclub that would cost $300 to fix, an injured person could argue the business owner (making thousands of dollars a night) is negligent for failing to spend $300 to make his/her venue a safer place.

Independent Contractors & Delegation

Companies or people who control properties cannot escape liability just by delegating it to an independent contractor. For instance, if a homeowner hired an electrician to fix an electrical problem, the homeowner could still be found negligent for any electrocutions that occurred on their property. However, in such a situation, the homeowner and the electrician are both likely to be brought into the lawsuit.

Previous Cases

You can find some prior court decisions related to premises liability issues below:

  • Delgado v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (1999) - Under certain circumstances, property owners may be held liable for failing to secure their property against criminal acts of others.
  • Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Center (1993) – Landowners must maintain their land in a reasonably safe condition and the purpose of the plaintiff’s presence on the property is not exclusively determinative of liability.
  • Lawrence v. La JollaBeach & Tennis Club, Inc. (2014) – The scope of a landlord’s duty is intended to provide some specific steps a property owner must take in a given circumstance to ensure the safety of the property and protect tenants.
  • Cadam v. Somerset Gardens Townhouse HOA (2011) - Property owners are not liable for damages caused by minor, trivial, or insignificant defects on their property.
  • Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) - Rejects the distinction between artificial and natural conditions. Both can be hazardous. The case also illustrates the factors considered by California jurors in evaluating the reasonableness of a property owners conduct.
  • Annocki v. Peterson Enterprises, LLC (2014) – Businesses and property owners can potentially be held liable for injuries that occur off the property, if their property is maintained or controlled in such a way that creates a risk of harm to individuals off the property.

Please note: The cases above are paraphrased and many of them make multiple points about premises liability law. If you’d like to read the case text word for word, you can search any of the above on casetext.com. You can also read the latest revisions of California Civil Jury Instructions here.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

We understand that premises liability law and torts are extremely complex issues that require legal help. Rest assured that when you enlist our services at Reed & Garcia Law, PC, you will have a legal team with all the relevant experience you need.

When you call for a free case evaluation, we will help you understand everything you just read and so much more. We can also evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your specific case.

What are you waiting for? Call us at (310) 242-8933 and schedule your free case evaluation today!