Premises Liability

You may have a valid claim for injury due to a slip and fall accident if the injury occurred on someone else’s property because of unsafe conditions or negligent maintenance.

Slip and fall accidents occur in store aisles, stairways, sidewalks, and other potentially hazardous locations. Injury caused by negligent property owners can be very serious to the injury victim and result in damages such as severe pain and suffering, substantial medical treatment, lost wages, and physical impairment or disability.

Many assume that if they are injured on someone else’s property–such as a business or home–the insurance company covering the property will cover the personal injury claims. In fact, premises liability is one of the more challenging areas of personal injury law. Insurance companies deny claims more often than not, and they can be difficult cases in court. Some personal injury attorneys simply do not accept premises liability cases.

We have successfully settled and litigated premises liability cases and can help investigate and evaluate your claim. It is important in any personal injury case to contact an attorney as early as possible.

Some cases we have handled include

  • A client who was “sucker” punched by a bouncer at a pub. Initially, the business’s insurance carrier denied the claim. The client retained us and we settled for over $10,000 without filing the case in court.
  • A supermarket kept an old, decrepit refrigeration unit in its produce section, in spite of a history of the unit leaking water on the floor on numerous occasions. Instead of replacing or properly repairing the unit, the store just mopped up each time it leaked. One morning the unit leaked over and over, a total of ten times or more according to the produce manager on duty. Our client turned her cart into the produce aisle and, unable to see the water because of her cart, fell and badly injured her elbow and shoulder. The store’s insurance initially offered only less than five thousand dollars–not even enough to pay medical expenses. We sued. The result was over $50,000–more than ten times their offer.

Contact Us About Your Premises Injury 206-801-1188

Responsibility for Premises Liability Injury

We have the right to assume that the premises are in a reasonably safe condition. A customer does not have to “watch her footing every step of the way” and a patron is “justified in assuming that she might safely walk” on safely in a retail business.  Washington law merely requires customers to exercise the degree of care which a reasonably prudent person of ordinary intelligence would exercise under like or similar circumstances.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that “prudent care for one’s own safety should not and does not entail rigid fixation of one’s eyes on the pathway, sidewalk, rug, or stairs ahead” nor does the law require that “one need keep a constant watch for any danger that might lurk in the next step….it is a matter of common experience – even in walking up stairs – that one who keeps a reasonable watch for his own safety will simply engage in intermittent glances at the path ahead….The law requires no higher duty of care, and certainly does not require one to keep his or her eyes fixed on the floor immediately ahead.”  Todd v. Harr, Inc., 69 Wn.2d 166, 170-71, 417 P.2d 945 (1966).

On the other hand, the mere presence of water or other hazards does not make a store, landlord, or other landowner liable. For a retail business, the injured person will need proof that the store either knew about the water, shampoo, produce, or other hazard, or that the hazard was there for such a length of time that the store should have discovered the hazard and cleaned it up.

Landlord Liability

A landlord may be liable to a tenant under breach of contract (depending on the lease terms) and for residential tenants for breach of the warranty of habitability.

The warranty of habitability does not apply to guests of tenants, but a landlord might still be liable for injury to a guest under other laws.

Medical Bills Coverage

For slip and fall accidents the occupant or owner of the property will often have insurance that covers the injury victim’s medical expenses while the injury claim is pending. Other damages, such as lost wages, pain and suffering, and disability, will have to be handled separately through either settlement or a personal injury lawsuit.

Criminal Acts

Premises liability may also arise from failure to protect from harm caused by third persons. Failure to provide adequate security against criminal acts, such as inadequate lighting to deter crime, failure to train security personnel, failure to warn against the potential of criminal activity, and negligent supervision of employees may lead to liability for personal injury.

Premises Liability Legal Duties

In a premises liability case, the injury victim must prove that the store, landlord, or homewoner is legally responsible. The fact of being injured on someone else’s property, by itself, will not trigger fault or insurance coverage for an injury.

Washington premises liability law looks at the status of someone on another’s land as trespasser, licensee, social guest, or invitee. Different duties of care are owed to each.

Not surprisingly the owner owes the lowest legal duty to a tresspasser. A trespasser is a person who enters or remains upon the premises of another without permission or invitation, express or implied. An owner owes to a trespasser a duty not to commit willful or wanton misconduct.

A licensee is a person who goes upon the premises of another, with the permission or consent of the owner, but either without any invitation, express or implied, or for some purpose not connected with any business interest or business benefit to the owner. For example, under Washington case law a solicitor for a religious organization who slipped and fell on the front deck of a residence was held to be a licensee for premises liability purposes.

A social guest is a person who goes upon the premises of another, with an invitation, express or implied, but for a purpose not connected with any business interest or business benefit to the owner.

An owner of premises owes to a licensee or social guest a duty of ordinary care in connection with dangerous conditions of the premises of which the owner has knowledge or should have knowledge and of which the licensee or social guest cannot be expected to have knowledge. This duty includes a duty to warn the licensee or social guest of such dangerous conditions.

An invitee is a person who is either expressly or impliedly invited onto the premises of another for some purpose connected with a business interest or business benefit to the owner.

Examples of an invitee under Washington case law include a church member working on scaffold of church under construction; volunteer services performed on a painting or building scaffold; a student using school premises for extracurricular meeting after school hours; invitation to supervise at a dance sponsored by YWCA; friends and relatives invited to attend a ceremony for student nurses at a hospital; real estate broker showing unfinished home; a plaintiff, who was injured while acting in the capacity of an employee of a company that leased rooms and parking stalls from the defendant, was an invitee for purposes of determining the duty owed by the defendant; an assistant football coach who was injured on the sidelines during a school-sponsored football game was an invitee of the school district because the coach’s presence was related to the school district’s business of running its schools.

The owner owes an invitee the highest legal duty. An owner of premises owes to an invitee a duty to exercise ordinary care. This includes the exercise of ordinary care to maintain in a reasonably safe condition those portions of the premises that the invitee is expressly or impliedly invited to use or might reasonably be expected to use.