It has been reported that Wal-Mart, with 3,000 or so stores, experiences an average of 1,000 customer injuries a day, either from slip-and-fall accidents or from falling merchandise. Not all of these accidents result in lawsuits, but it highlights a legal principle known as premises liability.
Premises liability refers to the legal responsibility of the owner and/or occupant of a building for injuries sustained by someone due to a dangerous or defective condition, but that responsibility is generally contingent upon whether the owner/occupant created the condition or allowed it to exist.
You don’t have to be a “big box” retailer to be subject to premises liability. Someone visiting your home who slips on a wet surface and suffers injuries could file a claim against you and your property liability insurance. However, if you warned them about the slippery surface and they walked on it anyway, you could be off the hook.
If you’ve been injured on someone else’s property, you may be eligible to collect damages for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If so, contact the Denning Law Firm, LLC for a free one-on-one consultation. We proudly serve clients throughout Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas, including the surrounding areas of Overland Park, Johnson County, and nearby communities.
Under the law in both Kansas and Missouri, property owners or operators have a “duty of care” to maintain premises free of dangerous conditions. This duty requires not only that dangerous conditions – such as broken steps on a stairway – be repaired, but also that others on the premises be warned of anything that could cause an injury. This is why you’ll see those little yellow cones warning of slippery and wet surfaces or encounter whole aisles in a store that may be cordoned off.
Property owners and operators will protect themselves against premises liability by acquiring property insurance to cover unforeseen injuries and other events, but they can also be subject to personal injury lawsuits based on negligence.
The liability of the owner/operator is generally contingent upon the classification of the person on the premises. Three legal classifications are applicable:
INVITEES: This group is owed the highest duty of care and includes customers who visit your business, guests at a hotel or restaurant, and even friends you invite to dinner in your home.
LICENSEES: This group includes people who are allowed on your premises for their own benefit, not for yours. Examples include salesmen who knock on your door or utility workers who dig on your premises to repair a water main. Property owners must warn licensees of any dangers, but not necessarily fix them. Thus, licensees generally must meet a higher legal standard to file a claim than do invitees.
TRESPASSERS: Generally speaking, if someone is injured while trespassing on your property, you owe them no duty of care, and therefore cannot usually be held liable unless you deliberately harm them. The exception is children. Children are provided a wider legal berth even if they are trespassing on your property.
Slip-and-fall accidents probably top the list of premises liability claims, but conditions other than wet or impeded surfaces can result in injuries, including:
Defective staircases or walkways
Dog bites and animal attacks
Negligent security that leads to injury or assault
Swimming pool accidents
Chemical or toxic fumes
Garage door accidents
Elevator or escalator defects or accidents
If you do file a claim against a property owner/operator, you will have to show that that person’s negligence resulted in your injury. The elements of a successful negligence lawsuit are:
A dangerous condition existed on the premises you were on.
The party in possession or control of the premises knew or should have known about the condition.
The party in possession failed to use ordinary care to remove, remedy, or warn of the danger.
As a result, you, the plaintiff, were injured.
Both Kansas and Missouri adhere to the legal principle of comparative negligence, but in a different way. Missouri observes what is called the pure comparative negligence standard, while Kansas uses a modified comparative negligence rule.
Under both standards, you as the injured party can be found partially (or wholly) at fault for the accident that caused your injury. The difference between the pure and modified standards lies in the percentage of fault that can be recovered. Under the pure standard, you can be 90 percent at fault and still recover 10 percent of the damages due to you. Under the modified rule, as soon as your fault reaches 50 percent, you are unable to recover any damages.
Comparative fault will be assessed either by the insurance claims adjusters or by a jury if you file a personal injury lawsuit. Generally speaking, if you’re found 20 percent at fault and your settlement or jury award is $20,000, you will receive only $16,000. Remember though, once your fault reaches 50 percent in Kansas, you cannot recover anything.
When it comes to personal injury lawsuits, in Missouri the statute of limitations is five years, but in Kansas, it is only two years. Both limitations accrue from the date of your injury.
Insurance companies will generally only cover your medical expenses and lost income due to recovery time and only up to the coverage limit of the policy, which might be $30,000 for injury to a single person and $60,000 for all persons injured in a single accident.
If you prevail in a personal injury lawsuit, noneconomic damages can also be covered, including pain and suffering and loss of consortium. You also won’t have to deal with insurance caps, though you would be limited by the financial resources of the defendant you’re suing.
Proving negligence is not always easy, especially when you consider that the property owner is going to claim you caused your own injury. You definitely need the help of experienced premises liability attorneys. If you’ve been injured in or near Kansas City, Missouri, or Kansas, on another’s property, contact the Denning Law Firm, LLC. We will aggressively represent you, whether it’s with the insurance adjusters or in a court of law.