When an individual enters the property of another person or a commercial entity, they do so with the reasonable expectation no harm will come to them during their visit. When dangerous conditions lead to injuries at businesses, homes, and other locations, determining who is at fault can present a complicated matter. Contact one of our experienced and successful San Diego slip and fall attorneys at Estey & Bomberger, LLP.
Common questions arising during premises liability claims include:
- Who is responsible for the property – the owner or the lessee?
- Did the accident occur due to my reckless behavior – or the negligence of the owner?
- How does one determine liability when an accident occurs between two properties?
- Am I responsible for injuries a trespasser sustains on my property?
To better grasp these and other premises liability-related concerns, it helps to explore the laws and history regarding such cases. Although distinguishing premises liability accidents from other accidents can be difficult, one can glean valuable insight from national, statewide, and countywide statistics regarding unintentional injury.
Premises Liability Accidents in the United States
In a nationwide attempt to reduce the number of unintentional injuries among Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began the Healthy People Initiative in 2011. By 2020, the agency aims to reduce the proportion of deaths due to unintentional injury to 36 per 100,000 individuals.
As of 2011, the national rate of deaths from accidental injuries remained at 39.1 per 100,000 people, reflecting the country still has work to do in educating property owners and individuals alike of their responsibility to keep themselves – and one another – safe.
In addition, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), falls represent one of the most frequent causes of injury in the United States. In 2011, 8.9 million emergency room visits resulted from such incidents, which disproportionately occur among the elderly.
Premises Liability Accidents in California
Reviewing results by state in the Healthy People 2011 report reveals California currently sits below the national average and the 2020 goal. In 2011, 29.8 deaths occurred per 100,000 Californians due to unintentional injury. Though this number would ideally be reduced (or eliminated entirely), California has set a positive example for its peers to follow in keeping residents safe on their own properties and on the properties of others.
Premises Liability Accidents in San Diego
Further exploring the Healthy People report shows San Diego County saw 1,017 deaths in 2011 due to unintentional injury. This represents a rate of 32.6 fatalities per 100,000 San Diego residents. While still surpassing the goals set by the initiative, this number falls short of the statewide average.
In 2010, San Diego County began its own 10-year Health Strategy Agenda, “Live Well, San Diego!” In its 2012 “Unintentional Injury in San Diego County” report, the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency noted the rate of accidental injuries increased between 2000 and 2009. However, the proportion of children to adults sustaining such injuries decreased from 6.1 per 100,000 in 2000 to 3.8 per 100,000 in 2009. The report went on to identify falls as one of the leading causes of injury in the county.
Types of Premises Liability Accidents
Unfortunately, the opportunities for injury on a property are as diverse as the people who visit them. From cases of outright negligence to “freak accidents” unfolding over moments, visitor injuries often occur suddenly and without warning.
The most common categories of premises liability accidents include:
- Slips, trips, and falls. People trip, slip, or fall on properties for many reasons (which we will discuss below). Such incidents can lead to bruises, cuts, scrapes, broken bones, and – on some occasions – permanent disability or death.
- Accidental drowning. Swimming pools or ponds, when left unguarded or unfenced, present significant drowning risks to young children or other unauthorized or unsupervised swimmers.
- Children and dangerous items. Property owners who leave power tools, sharp objects, lawn mowers, or other items in plain view or unlocked structures assume the risk children may access and injure themselves with these objects.
Most Common Causes of Premises Liability Accidents
Multiple sources frequently refer to premises liability accidents as “slip and fall” accidents. This is likely because falls comprise the largest percentage of injuries individuals incur, whether on their properties or on the premises of others. However, many environmental and structural factors contribute to these incidents, such as:
- Unstable surfaces Floors, sidewalks, patios, and other weight-bearing surfaces must provide a smooth and safe walking surface for visitors. Loose, cracked, or rotten floorboards, tiles, or wood planks cause dangerous and unpredictable situations that lead to significant injuries.
- Inadequate fencing Properties containing dangerous elements – such as swimming pools, sharp instruments, and power tools – should be surrounded by fencing to keep children or other individuals unaware of the risks from entering the premises. Whether injured parties entered with or without permission, the owner may still bear some or all responsibility for accidents.
- Spills and slippery surfaces Spilled water, chemicals, cleaning products, or other liquids present considerable risks to visitors, particularly the elderly and disabled. Property owners must take swift and thorough action to dry off slippery surfaces – or post warning signs when such conditions are unavoidable.
- Stairs By their very nature, stairs pose higher hazards to individuals than flat surfaces. However, property owners failing to maintain proper railings and slip-proof surfaces impose unnecessary danger on their visitors.
- Unguarded heights Lofts, balconies, bunk beds, and other raised structures without sturdy railings, posted warnings, and other safety features expose property owners to higher premises liability risks.
- Faulty structures Furniture, playground equipment, and wall and lighting fixtures are a few structures to consider when examining the safety of a property for visitors. When such items are in disrepair or present potential hazards, cutting off visitor access is the best way to avoid catastrophe.
Submitting Insurance Claims Regarding Premises Injury Cases
After experiencing an injury due to an accident on another individual’s property, the injured party (or their family) should take immediate and decisive action to receive compensation for their medical and other expenses.
As soon as possible after the injury occurs, the injured individual should:
- Seek medical attention The most important action to take is to receive immediate stabilization and treatment of injuries. Inform medical staff of the nature of the injury so they can document it for insurance and legal purposes.
- Inform the property owner of the accident. This will allow the property owner to provide their insurance information and contact their insurance company to discuss the pending claim.
- Document the injury Take notes regarding the exact circumstances of the injury, including when, how, and where it occurred. If possible (and safe), take pictures of the place the accident occurred and have family or medical staff photograph the resulting injuries.
- Submit a claim Obtain the insurance information of anyone who might have responsibility for the accident, including the property owner, lessee, local government, or owners of an adjacent property (when an event occurred between two properties). Submit claims against each of these parties; it will be up to the insurance companies to determine whose policy will ultimately cover the expenses.
Ascribing Liability in Premises Injury Cases
When an injury occurs on an individual’s property, assigning blame to a particular party is not always as easy as it may appear. This is due to the complex circumstances relating to such occasions, including:
- Owner/lessee considerations On rented properties, dangerous conditions may be the responsibility of the owner or the lessee. Although owners typically assume liability for exterior structures and interior components of which a lessee may not be aware, renters must do their part to keep interior moving structures safe for visitors.
- Owner or lessee’s obligations Regardless of who claims responsibility for the condition of the property, the law occasionally presents ambiguities regarding what constitutes neglect on the part of the liable individual. The injured party must be able to prove the owner’s or lessee’s failure to repair, maintain, or otherwise secure a property that directly led to the harm they encountered.
- Visitor’s use of property When visiting the property of another, a person must exercise responsible behavior, obey all posted and stated rules, and act as directed by their host. Reckless or verboten actions may subject individuals to full or partial liability in such cases.
- Visitor’s permission to use property The laws governing trespassers’ rights on a property do not necessarily absolve a property owner of liability should an unauthorized individual sustain injuries while trespassing. Those aware of the risk of trespassing may be held responsible if they fail to post warnings of potential dangers to intruders.
How Do I Know if I Have a Good Case?
When an injury or fatality occurs on a private or public property not owned by the affected individual, they or their families often wonder if the case will hold up in court. Each case differs depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident and the actions of the parties involved. However, signs an injured party has a liable legal case against a property owner include:
- The individual suffered a significant injury while on a property owned by a company, government entity, or other individual.
- The injured party has reason to believe the negligence of the owner directly or partially contributed to their injury.
- The injured party took reasonable measures to obey posted or announced rules or procedures, as well as behaved in a generally responsible manner at the time of the incident.
- The injury in question has led to significant physical or financial hardship on the part of the victim or their family.
Although these factors can help an individual decide whether or not to pursue legal action against a property owner, the most effective way of ascertaining the viability of a potential court case is to contact a qualified premises liability attorney.
Choosing a Premises Liability Attorney in San Diego
Heightened emotions are not uncommon during a premises liability case. In addition to the legal and tactical difficulties in determining responsibility for such injuries, personal connections often cause injured parties to hesitate in seeking compensation. Although the owner of the property on which you were injured may be a close friend or respected business associate, they must still take necessary measures to keep their visitors safe.
When it comes to obtaining a favorable result in such a claim, a San Diego premises liability attorney has the experience, legal knowledge, and professional objectivity to help you obtain the compensation you need for your medical bills and other expenses related to the injury. A highly skilled premises liability lawyer should present qualities such as:
- Compassion Seek an attorney who understands the goal of the legal process is not to “punish” the property owner, but to hold them responsible and to get you the resources you need to recover.
- Subject matter knowledge Many attorneys may claim to possess premises liability expertise, but those who specialize in such matters have the case histories to back up their claims.
- Straightforward approach Avoid lawyers who promise unrealistic settlement amounts or other results. Instead, seek legal assistance from those who draw on previous cases to inform their approach.
- Contingency rates Most injured parties can ill afford to pay high lawyer’s invoices on top of their medical bills. When attorneys expect to get paid only when their clients win their cases, it shows confidence in their ability to prevail.
Trust Premises Liability Cases to Estey & Bomberger, San Diego
Lengthy and complicated legal cases only add insult to injury after an accident on another party’s property. At Estey & Bomberger, we seek to simplify and ease the claims process so our clients can continue the important process of healing. To that end, we will employ our extensive knowledge of California law and extensive history of successful premises liability cases to help you receive a favorable ruling.
Representation from Estey & Bomberger does not cost clients a dime unless they win their cases. Our contingency billing policy reflects our confidence in and commitment to the success of each case we accept. We are ready and eager to talk with you regarding your premises liability claim. Simply fill out our online contact form or contact us today at (619) 873-4498. We will provide you with a free case evaluation and help you decide how to proceed with the legal process.