If you are in someone else’s house, business or other building, and you are injured due to an unsafe stairway bannister or some other condition, who is responsible? The answer will depend upon the circumstance, but it will depend on a legal theory known as premises liability.
What is premises liability?
Under California law, property owners have certain duties toward their visitors to keep their premises reasonably safe. When they breach this duty, and someone is injured as a result, the owner can be held liable for the injured party’s damages. This is the legal theory behind so-called slip-and-fall cases and many other personal injury actions.
The outcome of these cases can vary widely from one to another, depending on the exact circumstances. What they all have in common is the duty of the landowner to exercise ordinary care in maintaining the property and keeping it reasonably free of safety hazards. This involves routine inspections and maintenance.
Landlords and tenants
This duty typically applies not only to the property owner, but to whoever possesses the property. For instance, a merchant who rents space for her store owes a duty of ordinary care to her customers. But a landlord-tenant situation can complicate premises liability.
A landlord relinquishes possession of the property to a tenant, so the landlord typically cannot make daily inspections of the premises. The landlord must keep the premises reasonably safe before turning it over to the tenant, but once the tenant takes possession, much of the duty falls to the occupant. Still, the landlord may have a duty to repair any safety hazards they know about. For instance, if the merchant alerts the landlord to a problem with the bannister, then a court may find the landlord bears some liability if a customer is injured due to the unsafe condition.
For the injured person, all this may seem abstract, but in a specific case these questions can be very important. The injured person needs to determine all the parties that could possibly be held liable so that they can maximize their chances of recovering the full amount of compensation they deserve after a terrible accident.