Premises liability

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Premises liability is the liability for a landowner for certain torts that occur on the real property. This can range from things from "injuries caused by a variety of hazardous conditions, including open excavations, uneven pavement, standing water, crumbling curbs, wet floors, uncleared snow, icy walks, falling objects, inadequate security, insufficient lighting, concealed holes, improperly secured mats, or defects in chairs or benches".[1] In sum:

Premises liability law is the body of law which makes the person who is in possession of land or premises responsible for certain injuries suffered by persons who are present on the premises.

— ExpertLaw website[2]

For premises liability to apply:

  1. The defendant must possess the land or "premises".[2]
  2. The plaintiff must be an invitee or, in certain cases, a licensee.[2][3] Traditionally, trespassers were not protected under premises liability law.[2][3] However, in 1968, the California Supreme Court issued a vastly influential opinion, Rowland v. Christian, 69 Cal.2d 108 (1968), which abolished the significance of legal distinctions such as invitee, licensee, or trespasser in determining whether one could hold the possessor of a premises liable for harm. This opinion led to changes in the law in many other states in the United States, and is viewed as a seminal opinion in the development of the law of premises liability.
  3. There must be negligence—a breach of the duty of care—or some other wrongful act.[3] In recent years, the law of premises liability has evolved to include cases where a person is injured on the premises of another by a third person's wrongful act, such as an assault. These cases are sometimes referred to as "third party premises liability" cases and they represent a highly complex and dynamic area of tort law. They pose especially complex legal issues of duty and causation because the injured party is seeking to hold a possessor or owner of property directly or vicariously liable when the immediate injury-producing act was, arguably, not caused by the possessor or owner.

Common law of premises liability[edit]

A notice informing potential entrants of limits to the duty of care

At common law, in the case of landowners, the extent of their duty of care to those who came on their premises varied depending on whether a person was classified as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee. This rule was eventually abolished in some common law jurisdictions. For example, England enacted the Occupiers Liability Act 1957. Similarly, in the 1968 landmark case of Rowland v. Christian,[4] the Supreme Court of California replaced the old classifications with a general duty of care to all persons on one's land, regardless of their status. After several highly publicized and controversial cases, the California Legislature enacted a statute in 1985 that partially restored immunity to landowners from some types of lawsuits from trespassers.[5]

Colorado's highest court adopted the Rowland unified duty of care analysis in 1971. The resulting explosion of lawsuits against Colorado landowners caused the state legislature to enact the Colorado Premises Liability Act in 1986, which enacted a cleaned-up statutory version of the common law classifications and simultaneously expressly displaced all common law remedies against landowners in order to prevent state courts from again expanding their liability.[citation needed]

In the Republic of Ireland, under the Occupiers' Liability Act, 1995, the duty of care to trespassers, visitors and "recreational users" can be restricted by the occupier; provided reasonable notice is given, for which a prominent notice at the usual entrance to the premises usually suffices.[6]

Premises liability case law of the United States[edit]

In United States law, premises liability law is highly developed and can differ from state to state. This section includes some cases as examples of how premises liability applies.

Lai Chau v. Southstar Equity Limited Co. and Brookside Properties Inc.[edit]

Lai Chau, a former University of South Florida student, survived a violent abduction in her North Tampa apartment complex in 2001. Two men sneaked past the complex’s security gate, and shot the 20-year-old student three times in the head. The landmark negligent security case won Chau $15.7 million in damages in 2004.[7] Fred Zinober, who helped represent Chau, said "it never would have happened to Lai Chau," had the property owners not allowed negligent security at The Remington complex. "We really believe that people will pay an additional $12 or $13 (per month) to be safe," Zinober remarked of security upgrades during the trial.[8]

Cochrane v. Linda Manor[edit]

In the case of Cochrane v. Linda Manor, a 17-year-old boy was murdered in the parking lot of his own apartment complex/motel. The murderer also lived in the same complex. A few days before the murder happened, a maid working for the apartment complex found the murderer in his room with a shot-gun. He told the maid about his fantasy of killing someone. She notified the apartment complex manager and was told not to go into his room any longer. They did not evict the man, and failed to warn the other tenants of his behavior. Investigators found that there had been multiple violent and non-violent crimes on the property over several years, yet the owners of the complex did not take any action to increase security. The jury decided to award the victim's mother $10 million in compensatory damages, $2.6 million in punitive damages, with the aim of punishing the defendant for their deplorable conduct and as a deterrent for others. This was the largest personal injury verdict ever in the state of Nevada at the time.[9]

New York caselaw[edit]

Morales v. Lia[10] is the leading modern case in New York law. A pedestrian who was hit by a car in the parking lot of a strip mall was unable to get payment for his injuries from the mall owner because the driver and owner of the vehicle were 100% liable for plaintiff's injuries.[10]

In another case, Peralta v. Henriquez,[11] New York's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, held that a landowner has a duty to provide lighting, when "defendants created the dangerous condition that led to the accident, [and] notice was not at issue ...."; in this case, it was lack of illumination that caused plaintiff's injuries when she walked into a bent car antenna in the darkened parking lot of defendant's premises.[11] Both the intermediate court, the Appellate Division, and the N.Y. Court of Appeals cited prior precedent,[12] that when "the general public is invited into stores, office buildings and other places of public assembly, the owner is charged with the duty of providing the public with a reasonably safe premises, including a safe means of ingress and egress."[11] Peralta has been cited itself as precedent in at least one other department's decision.[13] Peralta was distinguished in those instances where the landlord had no notice of a dangerous situation, e.g. a tenant's prior criminal propensity to commit arson.[14]


  1. ^ Premises Liability and Slip and Fall. Retrieved June 27, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d ExpertLaw website. Retrieved January 12, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Article on premises liability. Retrieved January 12, 2009.
  4. ^ Rowland v. Christian, 69 Cal. 2d 108 (1968).
  5. ^ Calvillo-Silva v. Home Grocery, 19 Cal. 4th 714 (1998).
  6. ^ "Occupiers' Liability Act, 1995". Irish Statute Book. Oireachtas. 17 June 1995. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  7. ^ Nguyen, Dong-Phuong. "Carjack Victim Begins 2002 At Home." St. Petersburg Times 1 Jan. 2002
  8. ^ Fechter, Michael. "Jury Gives $10 Million More in Security Suit." Tampa Tribune 17 Dec. 2004
  9. ^ "Negligent Security". Snyder & Wenner, PC. Retrieved 2014-11-20. 
  10. ^ a b Morales v. Lia, 238 A.D.2d 786, 656 N.Y.S.2d 458 (3rd Dep't 1997). Found at Leagle, retrieved April 20, 2014.
  11. ^ a b c Peralta v. Henriquez, 292 A.D.2d 514, 739 N.Y.S.2d 196 (2d Dep't 2002), appealed 100 N.Y.2d 139 (2003). Found 2nd Dept. case and Court of Appeals case; both retrieved April 10, 2014.
  12. ^ Gallagher v. St. Raymond's R.C. Church, 21 N.Y.2d 554, 289 N.Y.S.2d 401, 236 N.E.2d 632 (1968).
  13. ^ Taylor v Lands End Realty Corp., 2012 NY Slip Op 02150 (3rd Dept. 2012). Found at Justia website, retrieved April 10, 2014.
  14. ^ Ishmail v ATM Three, LLC, 77 A.D.3d 790 (2nd Dept. 2010). Found at N.Y. Courts website, retrieved April 10, 2014.