Premises liability and construction accidents are an important part of the law of torts, a subset of civil law that is implicated when a plaintiff sues a defendant for injuries suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligence. Premises liability is the law involved when a person enters a piece of property and is injured by a dangerous condition on that property. Construction accidents are more specific, and they typically occur when construction workers, tools, or equipment create the dangerous condition that causes the injury.
In the context of premises liability, the plaintiff is a land entrant and the defendant is the person or party in possession of the land. The remainder of this article summarizes the law involved when a person is injured after entering property or as a result of a construction accident. The article is not intended to serve as legal advice. If you have been injured on property or by a construction accident, contact the Joyner Law Firm as soon as possible.
Premises Liability Overview
Historically, recovery under premises liability depended heavily on the status of the plaintiff as he entered the land. Common law draws a distinction between the following three land entrants:
- A trespasser is a person who enters the land without lawful permission or justification.
- A licensee is a person who enters land not open to the general public by permission of the land possessor. Social and party guests are typically classified as licensees.
- An invitee is a person who is invited onto land either: 1) as a member of the general public, or 2) for the purposes of conducting commercial dealings with the land possessor. Shoppers at a retail store and patrons of a restaurant would be considered licensees.
A plaintiff’s status as a land entrant determines the duty of care owed by the defendant. In order to recover for injuries, the plaintiff must show that the defendant breached that duty of care.
Under common law, the land possessor generally has no duty to protect a trespasser from negligence; a trespasser can generally only recover for injuries caused by intentional acts.
A property possessor does have a duty, however, to take certain steps to avoid injuring licensees and invitees. The possessor must warn licensees of all known dangers. For example, if the possessor is aware that her driveway is covered by ice, she has a duty to warn her social guests that the driveway may be slippery. If her failure to do so causes a guest to slip on the ice, the guest can recover for any injury he suffers.
A land possessor owes her greatest duty of care to invitees; the possessor is required to take affirmative steps to make the property safe. In addition to warning of known dangers, she must warn of and correct dangers that can be discovered through reasonable diligence. Therefore, retail store employees must constantly be on alert for slippery floors and other hazardous conditions. If a person is injured by a condition that could have been discovered through the exercise of reasonable diligence, the retail store will be liable.
Construction accidents are a subset of premises liability in which the dangerous condition is created by construction work. If, through a negligent act, an unfinished job site, tools, or equipment causes injury, a licensee or invitee will likely be able to recover for that injury. The important thing in construction accidents is that the plaintiff can generally recover from both the land possessor and the construction company, giving her a greater chance of actually recovering on a judgment.
Hopefully this article has provided readers with a basic overview of premises liability. Again, it is not intended as legal advice. Contact the Joyner Law Firm if you want more detailed information.