All property owners in Pennsylvania are legally obligated to maintain their grounds, such as buildings, structures, land, parking lots, and walkways. Under the law, these property owners have a duty of care to anyone who comes onto their premises. To fulfill this duty, they must make reasonable efforts to keep their grounds free from all hazards.
The duty of care is required for all invitees or licensees. A business invitee is someone invited onto the property for business or commercial reasons. A licensee is a person on the property for nonbusiness or noncommercial reasons, including social events and tourist attractions. In some cases, property owners may even owe a duty of care to trespassers.
If you are injured in an accident caused by dangerous conditions on someone else’s property, such as the steps of a private home or the parking lot of an apartment complex, a Philadelphia premises liability lawyer may be able to help you file a claim.
If you or a loved one is injured on a property that the owner did not adequately maintain, it is worth consulting a premises liability lawyer. There may be multiple parties at fault, or the negligent party may not be readily apparent.
A lawyer will analyze the facts and follow the chain of potentially responsible parties to determine the actual responsible entity, which might be the:
An injured person who has filed a premises liability lawsuit and their lawyer must prove all of the following:
A premises liability lawsuit is considered a civil case rather than a criminal case. For this reason, a lesser standard of proof suffices.
In premises liability cases, the plaintiff must prove each of the above elements by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of evidence means the plaintiff must establish facts that show it is more likely than not that the property owner owed you a duty of care, they breached this duty, the breach caused your injuries, and the injuries resulted in actual damages to you.
The following are broad categories that are generally covered under premises liability claims.
Slip and Fall Accidents
A person could be seriously injured by falling or slipping on public or private property that the owner should have reasonably maintained. If property owners knew or should have known about the danger and failed to act or warn invitees about the hazard, they could be held liable.
Culprits include slippery pavement or floors, uneven sidewalks, poorly maintained stairs or walkways, inadequate caution warnings, broken handrails, and poor outdoor grounds maintenance, to name a few.
Slip and fall accidents can occur virtually anywhere, but are common in:
Children can also be injured in slip and fall accidents and other property-related accidents. Many places with great kid-appeal are commonly named in premises liability cases, including amusement parks and playgrounds.
Rides, swings, and other attractions may not be adequately maintained, or they are worn out or fail for other reasons. The same goes for indoor play spaces, such as trampoline gyms, climbing attractions, and outdoor activities, like go-kart tracks, ice skating, and roller-skating rinks. They may not be as safe for children as laws dictate.
A child is often helpless if equipment fails or there are dangerous conditions that a child cannot control or avoid. Parents and guardians of children injured on public or private premises should contact a lawyer. Galfand Berger LLP has helped numerous people with premises liability claims, and we can help you if your child was injured on a negligent party’s property.
Dangerous conditions encompass a variety of situations that a property owner should have known about and repaired:
Dangerous conditions can also result from a property owner’s poor response to weather conditions. For example, snow-covered or icy steps, parking lots, and walkways are often responsible for serious injuries.
Insufficient lighting is also a considered a dangerous condition. When lights are not working or there is not enough of them, patrons can easily be hurt. Clear exit signage is also a must for patrons to quickly evacuate a property.
Defective security occurs when a property owner fails to protect guests, patrons, vendors, residents, and others from a violent criminal act that was reasonably foreseeable. The civil premises liability lawsuit would be separate from a criminal proceeding. It is important to understand crime victim rights should a crime occur on a property owner’s premises.
Examples of negligent security include:
Insufficient maintenance can lead to many accidents and injuries. It occurs when the property owner, manager, or other responsible party fails to keep the grounds to a standard of care that would be reasonably prudent in similar circumstances. For example, it would be reasonable to expect a property owner to fix a badly cracked sidewalk, so people do not trip.
Other examples of negligent maintenance include:
A skilled lawyer is the person who can best prove negligence in a premises liability lawsuit. The following are strategies your lawyer may use in establishing all the necessary elements.
To prove that a property owner owed you a duty of care while on their premises, your lawyer must establish whether you were an invitee, licensee, or trespasser at the time. An invitee is permitted on the property for a business purpose, while a licensee is invited by the property owner to be on the property for a personal or social reason. A trespasser is a person who is on the property without the property owner’s permission.
Under Pennsylvania law, a property owner:
Once your lawyer establishes your status, they must prove there was a breach of the duty owed to you. A higher duty of care owed to an invitee might include testimonies from employees about the lack of maintenance and repair of dangerous situations on the property. They may also point to a lack of warning signage, insufficient lighting, loose handrails, or uneven walkways throughout the property.
Your lawyer will then need to prove that your injuries were a direct result of the breach of the duty of care. Causation is often demonstrated through your testimony about your injuries, eyewitness statements, medical records, and testimony from safety and other experts.
To win a premises liability lawsuit, your lawyer must also prove that your injuries caused you actual damage. They may use photographs and videos of the dangerous conditions, medical records that support the extent of your injuries and treatments, bills related to your injury, employer records showing loss of income, and other documentation that proves monetary damages.
While every case is unique, most lawsuits will follow a process like the following.
Most law firms offer free consultations. During this meeting, the lawyer or other firm representative will collect the details from you. They will note your injuries, damages, losses, expenses, diagnosis and prognosis, and other case facts. They will let you know whether you have a valid or worthwhile claim.
If you hire a lawyer, they will immediately begin proving the four elements mentioned above: duty of care, breach of duty, the breach caused injuries, injuries caused damages.
The first stage is the investigation stage. Your lawyer will collect evidence proving who was responsible for the negligence and the breach of duty. Evidence can include medical records, medical bills, wage loss documentation, and more.
You must reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) before moving on to settlement. The reason is that you and your lawyer will then know your exact prognosis and what future costs you may incur, such as medical bills and lost wages. Your lawyer will include these amounts in your damages when assessing your case.
Your lawyer will put together a demand package outlining the other party’s negligence, your injuries, treatments, prognosis, and the amount you are entitled to in a settlement. This package is generally sent to the insurance company of the negligent party.
There will be a period of negotiation during which your lawyer will try to settle the claim without the need for litigation. There may be much back-and-forth as your lawyer tries to settle for a fair and just amount on your behalf.
The unfortunate reality is that insurance companies are in the business of minimizing their losses, not making sure you are fairly compensated for yours. That is why you should hire an experienced lawyer. They are skilled in negotiation and litigation, which leads to the next step.
If your lawyer and the insurer cannot come to agreeable terms, or the two-year statute of limitations to file a suit is near, your lawyer may file your complaint with the courts. Once an answer to the complaint is filed, a lengthy discovery phase commences.
Discovery is the investigation phase. This is where lawyers on both sides will answer written questions, request, and provide documents and documentation, take depositions, and prepare all evidence and testimony for trial. At any time during discovery, the lawyers can decide to settle the case. If they do not, it will go to a judge and jury.
Your lawyer will work to recover as much in damages as possible, including costs for:
As with any accident, always seek medical attention first. Even if you do not feel that you were seriously hurt, know that some injuries can take several days or even weeks to show up. Get medical attention at the scene or directly after the injury and when a new symptom occurs.
If you can, get all witnesses’ names and contact information, including employees. If you cannot do this, ask a companion or other person to do so for you.
Also, take as many photographs and videos as possible of the accident scene and the cause, such as a loose handrail or slippery walkway.
After seeking medical care, contact a premises liability lawyer. They will work quickly to preserve evidence and protect your rights.
If you have been injured on someone else’s property, our Philadelphia premises liability lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP are happy to answer your legal questions and review your case. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg, from our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania.