Exploring the Difference between Premises Liability and Negligence

If someone is injured on your property, are you at fault? The answer varies depending on what occurred, the condition of the property, and other factors. Determining fault following an accident or injury involves two legal concepts: premises liability and negligence.

Negligence and Premises Liability Defined

Negligence is a broad term that applies to all personal injury cases. It refers to potentially any action (or inaction) that results in bodily injury or death.

Additionally, a concept called “gross negligence” can apply in these types of cases. With gross negligence, the responsible party demonstrated a complete disregard for safety issues. Proving gross negligence allows the injured party to potentially win punitive damages.        

Premises liability is a type of personal injury case. Property owners, and sometimes tenants, are legally required to maintain certain safety standards. If they fail to do so, they’re considered negligent and then potentially legally liable for any injuries that occurred on the property.

Proving negligence is a key aspect in not just premises liability cases, but any type of personal injury case, including medical malpractice and wrongful death cases. So, while premises liability and negligence are two separate legal concepts, they’re often interconnected in a personal injury case.

A Closer Look at Premises Liability

A premises is any type of private property, including a house, apartment, or business. Generally, the owner of the premises is responsible for keeping the location safe and free from hazards. However, in some cases, tenants are responsible for the safety of a location they rent.

Virtually any type of injury which occurs on someone’s property could potentially lead to a premises liability case. Common safety hazards include:

  • Slick or wet surfaces that result in slipping and falling
  • Animals that bite, scratch, kick, or can otherwise harm a person
  • Lack of appropriate security
  • Unstable structures or products (such as items that fall off a shelf)
  • Unsafe or unsanitary food-related issues
  • Poorly maintained or unprotected bodies of water

Although many personal injury cases involve slip-and-fall accidents, property owners aren’t held responsible for every type of slip-and-fall injury. State laws typically protect owners from liability when someone is injured by what’s called a transitory substance, which is any hazard that the owner would not reasonably know existed.

For example, a customer pulls into the parking lot of a store in a car that leaks oil. Fifteen minutes later, a different customer slips on an oil spill created by the leaky car. In most cases, the property owner wouldn’t be liable for the injuries because they had no reasonable way of knowing about the spill within the timeframe.

What is a Qualifying Visitor?

Not everyone injured at a location is eligible to file a personal injury suit. Instead, property owners must maintain a safe environment for what are called qualifying visitors. Essentially, qualifying visitors are anyone the owner can reasonably expect on the property.

For a business, the general public is considered a qualifying visitor. For a home, qualifying visitors include invited guests as well as any professionals with a legitimate need to approach or enter the home, such as repair people or even someone delivering a package to the front door. 

Final Thoughts

“Although negligence and premises liability are different concepts, both play important roles in the outcome of a personal injury case,” said Ted Kaplun. “For anyone injured in a business or on someone else’s property, the best way to determine possible negligence is to contact an attorney with experience in premises liability.”

Determining negligence on the part of the property owner helps establish liability for medical bills and other expenses, as well as possible punitive damages. Understanding how negligence connects to the larger concept of premises liability is important for business owners, homeowners, and anyone else with a vested interest in a personal injury lawsuit.