Under California premises liability laws, property owners and occupants have a duty to maintain their property in reasonably safe conditions. They must warn visitors and guests of any potential dangers or hazards. This duty of care legally requires people who possess, control, or own property to exercise reasonable care to:
- Maintain the property
- Inspect the property
- Repair potentially unsafe or dangerous conditions
- Provide adequate notice of any unsafe or dangerous conditions
Property owners or occupiers who fail to keep their premises in reasonably safe conditions may be negligent and held responsible for injuries sustained on the property. Victims who suffered damages due to a property owner’s negligence may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the property owner to obtain compensation for their injuries or losses.
In California personal injury cases, victims are entitled to compensatory damages for their losses. Compensatory damages refer to money that an offender must pay to compensate a victim for his or her losses. Common examples of compensatory damages in a premises liability lawsuit can include:
- Medical expenses & continuing medical care
- Physical therapy
- Lost wages
- Lost future earning capacity
- Disfigurement or scarring
- Pain and suffering
Which Laws Outline Premises Liability in California?
In California, premises liability laws are based on negligence. California Civil Code 1714(a) states, “Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself.”
In a premises liability cause of action, the victim/plaintiff must prove that she or he was harmed due to the way the defendant managed the property. Under California law, the victim must prove the following:
- The defendant controlled, occupied, leased, or owned the property
- The defendant was negligent in the maintenance or use of the property
- The victim or plaintiff was harmed and suffered damages
- The defendant’s negligence was a significant factor in causing the victim’s or plaintiff’s harm
For example: John, a grocery store employee mops the floor but fails to warn customers that the floor is still wet and that a person may easily slip and get hurt. John also failed to put up proper signage warning customers about the potential hazard. Sally, a customer, walks into the grocery store and onto the wet floor, slips, falls, and sustains a broken arm. In this scenario, Sally will generally have grounds to file a lawsuit since the wet area was not properly marked.
Proving Negligence in a Premises Liability Claim
Under California law, a victim must prove negligence on the part of the possessor or owner of the property. California Civil Code 1714 outlines the obligations of property owners to provide ordinary care. It also states that each person is responsible for this obligation. Under this law, injuries that are caused by a lack of ordinary care that resulted in harm qualify as injuries caused by negligence. To file a personal injury claim for premises liability against a property owner, the following key elements must exist:
- The property is possessed or owned by the defendant
- The defendant was negligent because he or she failed to provide ordinary care to prevent an injury
- The plaintiff was injured because of the negligent care of the property
- The negligence was a significant factor in the cause of the injury
These key elements must be present for a victim to make a legal claim under California premises liability laws. If a victim can prove that the property owner failed to perform their duty of care to prevent injury, the property owner might be held liable for damages including medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost income, and other related losses.
What is the “Reasonable Care” Standard?
The reasonable care standard, or duty of care, for property owners is based on how a reasonable property owner would act under similar circumstances. When determining whether a property owner breached a duty of care, the several factors will be considered including:
- The property location
- The likelihood a person would come onto the property the same way the victim did
- The likelihood of an injury
- The probable seriousness of the injury
- Whether the property owner knew or should have known about the condition
- The burden of avoiding or reducing the risk or injury including identifying potential hazards with warnings
- The property owner’s degree of control over the risky condition
Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list, and the courts can consider any other relevant factors.
Mark’s house has wooden stairs leading up to the front doorway. The stairs are old, uneven, and rotting. Mark always must be careful walking up the stairs because he knows it could break at any time. Mark planned to repair the steps in a few months when he has more time.
One day, Mark ordered food from a local restaurant for home delivery. Tim, the delivery person, walks up the stairs to deliver the food. Upon walking on the third step, the wood fell, and Tim injured his arm from the fall.
In this situation, Mark would probably be liable for damages since he knew about the damaged stairs, was aware that the stairs could cause injury, had control over the stairs, had knowledge that the stairs needed to be repaired, and failed to provide adequate warning of the potential hazard. Tim, the injured delivery person, could probably file a premises liability personal injury to obtain compensation for his injuries.
How Does Comparative Negligence Affect a Premises Liability Claim in California?
California uses comparative negligence for all personal injury claims including premises liability claims. Under comparative negligence law, a plaintiff can recover any portion of damages caused by the defendants. If the plaintiff is partially responsible, he or she can still obtain some amount of award, but it will be reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s own fault.
For example: In a premises liability claim, if the victim was awarded $100,000 but found to be 25% responsible for the injury while the property owner is 75% responsible, the victim’s award would be reduced by 25%. Ultimately, the victim would receive a final award amount of $75,000.
What Conditions Does a Property Owner or Renter Have to Caution Against or Fix?
California property owners have a duty to warn people about hazards or fix dangerous conditions. Property owners can’t avoid liability simply by claiming they didn’t know about the dangerous conditions. The occupier or owner has a duty to exercise ordinary care in maintaining the property to prevent exposure and creating unreasonable risk of injury or harm.
Property owners must use reasonable care to find out about any unsafe conditions. Proof that a property owner knew or should have known about an unsafe condition can be shown by the following:
- Poor attempts to fix the dangerous conditions
- Prior injuries caused by the unsafe conditions
- Amount of time that the unsafe condition has existed
- Complaints about the unsafe conditions
- The obviousness of the hazardous conditions
Generally, property owners might not be responsible for damages caused by insignificant, minor, or trivial defects on the property. However, defects that could be considered minor may depend on the type of injuries and defects.
What Kind of Warnings Need to Be Displayed?
When a California property owner knows about a dangerous condition but cannot fix it, a reasonable property owner would display a notice warning others about the hazard. By putting up a notice about a potential hazard, people will be made aware of the potential hazard and take proper precautions to avoid injury.
The kind of notices or warnings that need to be displayed depends on the dangerous condition and types of individuals that might get hurt. The warning should alert others of the type of danger and where it can be found. The warning should also be obvious or visible enough so others can be aware of the unsafe condition before getting into a situation where they could get injured.
Andrew walked into the first floor of his work building where there was a sign cautioning visitors about a wet floor. Andrew didn’t see any sign of water on the floor. However, he continued walking up to the second floor to meet his colleagues where he slipped on a puddle of water and injured his arm. Since there was no signage on the second floor warning him about the potential hazard, the property owner might be held liable for Andrew’s injuries due to the incorrect location of the wet floor warning.
Who Can I Sue If I’m Injured on Someone’s Property?
If you’ve been injured on someone else’s property, you can typically sue:
- Property owners
- Individuals who occupy / control a property
- Property lessees
Liability does not require that an individual own, possess, and occupy a property. If someone controls the property, that is sufficient to be held liable. Additionally, there could be multiple parties responsible for an injury. The responsible party can also depend on the type of property.
Examples of potential defendants in a premises liability case can include:
- Business owner
- Renter or tenant
- Property management company
- Retail center
- Parent company
- Employee of anything listed above
It is important to note that property owners or possessors typically cannot delegate away their duty of care to keep a property in reasonably safe conditions. If a property owner hires an independent contractor to fix an unsafe condition on their property but the contractor is negligent and fails to make the property safe, the property owner can still be held liable for injuries sustained on the property.
Similarly, if an employee fails to fix or warn the employer about a dangerous condition on a property, the employer might be responsible for the employee’s negligence. Based on California respondeat superior laws, an employer can be held vicariously liable for an employees’ negligence.
Common Premises Liability Claims
In California, there are numerous types of premises liability claims. Some of the most common ones include:
Slip and Fall Accidents – Slip and fall accidents and injuries are one of the most common premises liability accidents. Common causes of slip and falls include:
- Uneven floors
- Loose carpeting
- Leaks or spills
- Missing or broken railings
- Uncovered cords, cables, or wires
- Failure to put up warning signage about known hazards
- Failure to close off construction sites
- Wet surfaces
- Unsafe ladders and stairs
- Environment conditions such as trash or debris on the floor
- Improper footwear
- Improper training or safety practices
Construction Site Accidents – Construction sites are notoriously known as one of the most dangerous locations. Workers must work with large machines, dangerous tools, and equipment, while standing up on high surfaces. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set standards to help ensure workplace safety and enforce the standards of a healthy and safe workplace. Property owners have a duty of care to people on the property as well as people who are off property but are still within a potential danger zone. Failure to comply with OSHA standards and property owners could be held liable for accidents that happen on their property. Common construction site accidents include but are not limited to the following:
- Scaffolding injuries
- Roofing accidents
- Ladder injuries
- Electric shock injuries
- Crane accidents
Stair Injuries – Anyone can easily injury themselves on unsafe stairs caused by broken steps, loose handrails, or rotted wood. When a victim gets hurt in a dangerous stairway accident, the property owner might be liable for damages. Property owners have a duty to keep stairs in safe conditions which includes making sure it is safe to walk on, fixing any broken or uneven steps, or repairing anything else that could cause an accident.
Injuries Caused by Animals – Victims who are injured by animals may be able to file a premises liability claim. One of the most common areas of animal injuries are dog bite injuries. Under California Law, section 3342, a dog owner is legally responsible for the damages it causes a victim who gets injured by the dog. California’s strict liability dog bite law means that the dog owner is liable for the damages caused by their dog regardless of if it’s first time the dog injured someone. Additionally, the dog bite can occur in private place such as the dog owner’s property or in public.
Elevator Injuries – Property owners must ensure their elevators are in safe working conditions, whether it is in an office building, apartment, or retail shopping complex. When elevators are unsafe or does not meet California elevator codes, property owners must fix and bring the elevator up to code or they could be held liable for any injuries. Property owners must warn elevator users about any potential risks. Additionally, victims of elevator accidents could file a products liability claim if an elevator seller or manufacturer is responsible for a faulty product.
Home Accidents – If an accident happened in someone else’s home, the homeowner or occupier might be responsible. Homeowners are responsible for keeping their property in reasonably safe conditions and failure to do so might cause injuries to visitors. Common examples of home accidents include:
- Slip and falls
- Balcony and deck collapses
- Domestic worker accidents
- Falling trees
- Chemical injuries
- Inhalation injuries
- Electric shock
- Burn injuries
Additionally, a landlord could be held legally responsible for allowing unsafe conditions at a rental property.
Accidents at Water Parks and Amusement Parks – Amusement park companies have a duty to provide a safe environment for its visitors. This includes ensuring roller coasters are in safe working conditions for all riders. Park owners are responsible for maintaining the property including:
- The rides
- Parking lots
- Waiting areas
- Food courts
When a victim gets hurt at an amusement park, the company could be held liable for damages. Water parks are supposed to be another fun and safe place for families to enjoy the day. Reasonable water park owners should not only be aware of potential hazards but make a reasonable effort to prevent injuries. When someone gets hurt in a water slide or water park accident, the victim could file a personal injury claim against the park owner.
What Damages are Awarded in a Premises Liability Lawsuit?
Victims in a premises liability lawsuit are entitled to economic and non-economic damages for their losses.
Economic damages are direct and easy to calculate costs incurred because of a personal injury. Common examples of economic damages include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Future medical treatment
- Lost earning capacity
- Property damage
Non-economic damages are awarded for subjective, non-monetary losses. Common examples of non-economic damages in a premises liability lawsuit include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment
- Loss of limb
In rare cases, a victim may also get awarded punitive damages. In California, punitive damages are awarded to punish the wrongdoer for their outrageous conduct and to deter others from engaging in a similar conduct.
If a victim is killed in a premises liability accident, surviving family members may be able to file a claim for wrongful death. Wrongful death damages can include:
- Funeral & burial expenses
- Income that would have been earned by the deceased
- Compensation for the loss of the deceased’s companionship
- Disfigurement and pain and suffering of the deceased
Defenses Against a Premises Liability Claim
In some situations, a landowner, occupier, or lessor may avoid responsibility in a premises liability action. To do so, they need to prove the following:
- Minor defect – That the injury was caused by an insignificant, trivial, or minor defect on the property. This is also referred to as the trivial defect defense.
- Prior knowledge – That the injured person had knowledge and was aware of the unsafe condition before they were injured. For example, Mary knew about the wet floor at the grocery store because there were caution signs around the liquid. Mary is aware of the unsafe condition but decides to walk straight through the wet floor. In this example, the property owner may have a defense against Mary’s premises liability claim.
- Misuse of property – That misuse of a property led to a person’s injuries.
- Hazard was open and obvious – Under California law, a defendant can’t be held liable if the hazard was open and obvious (except in certain limited situations). If an unsafe condition was open and obvious, the injured person should have exercised reasonable care to avoid the dangerous situation.
- Property was not controlled by defendant – Defendants can only be held legally responsible for the property they control.
- Comparative negligence – In an attempt to minimize responsibility, the defendant might argue that you were partially responsible for your injuries in a premises liability accident. While this will not necessarily prevent you from recovering compensation, it could reduce your settlement award. An experienced California personal injury attorney can fight to ensure you aren’t wrongfully assigned blame.
Other Limitations on Premises Liability Claims
Under California Civil Code 846, a property owner’s liability is limited if an injured person was on a property designed for recreational purpose. Recreational purpose includes activities such as hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, sport parachuting, water sports, snowmobiling, spelunking, all types of vehicle riding, nature study, animal riding, picnicking, sightseeing, recreational gardening, rock collecting, gleaning, winter sports, and enjoying or viewing natural, scenic, archaeological, scientific, or historical sites. This law was intended to keep private land accessible to the public and implies that individuals have a duty to take the necessary care to not injure themselves when participating in what would be considered risky recreational behavior.
Additionally, under California Civil Code 847, a property owner’s liability is limited if a person gets injured or killed while committing certain felonies including but not limited to any felony where the defendant was breaking and entering or burglarizing a property.
Do Property Owners Owe a Duty of Care to Trespassers?
Under California law, the duty a property owner owes to a trespasser depends on the cause of injury and specific situation. In some states, the duty owed depends on the status of the person while on the property. However, California does not categorize duty based on the following status:
Instead, a jury will consider all relevant factors when deciding whether a property owner is responsible. In other words, if a jury find that the property owner failed to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonable safe condition, they could be liable for injuries. Relevant factors could include:
- The location of the property
- The seriousness and likelihood of the injury
- The likelihood that a trespasser would come onto the property
However, minors are an exception to premises liability laws. In California, a minor is a child under the age of 18. If a minor trespass on a property and gets injured, the property owner might be liable for his or her injuries.
California property owners owe a trespassing minor a duty of care to searching the property for potentially dangerous conditions, posting warning signages of known risks, and repairing known defects in a timely manner. If a property owner fails to fulfill these duties and a minor trespasser gets injured on the property, the property owner could be liable for the accident.
Is the Owner Liable Even If Care and Upkeep of a Property Is Managed by a Third Party?
Under California law, the duty owed by a land possessor is non-delegable. This means that liability is attached to a landowner, controller, or possessor and that responsibility cannot be delegated to another person, even if an independent contractor is hired to maintain the property.
For example: Sean owns a house in Los Angeles that he rents to tenants. Since Sean lives in San Diego, he hires an independent contractor to manage and maintain the house. Gary rents the home in Los Angeles. During this stay, Gary trips and falls on a broken stair. As a result of the fall, Gary suffered from a broken arm. Gary sues Sean for failing to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition.
In this scenario, even though Sean hired an independent contractor to maintain the property, he is still liable for Gary’s injuries since he is the owner of the house. However, Sean could potentially sue the third-party contractor for negligence.
Statute of Limitations on a Premises Liability Claim
A statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. Generally, California victims have two years from the date of the injury to file a premises liability lawsuit. If the injured victim fails to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out, their case will likely get dismissed and they will give up their right to obtain compensation for their injuries.
However, there are certain exceptions to the two-year deadline including:
- If the injured person is filing a claim against the government, the statute of limitations is only six months.
- If the injured person is under the age of 18, the deadline will not begin until the injured person turns 18.
California has strict deadlines for filing personal injury lawsuits. If you have been injured on someone’s property, speak with an experienced premises liability lawyer to learn more about your legal options before time runs out.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Premises Liability Claims?
Generally, homeowner’s insurance policies cover a range of bodily injuries that happen on a homeowner’s property. However, having homeowner’s insurance does not necessarily mean the insurance company pay for part or all of a claim.
Homeowners should review their individual policy to find out the extent of their coverage. Most insurance policies have exclusions regarding the type of accident and injuries sustained. Common examples of exclusions to a homeowner’s policy include:
- Damages from neglect
- Intentional injuries
- Dog bites
- Trampoline injuries
- Injuries because of poor workmanship
- Injuries because of a defective repair or maintenance
Some insurance policies also require policyholders take certain steps to mitigate damages. Policyholders may also be required to notify their insurance about the injury or accident within a certain amount of time.
Depending on your policy, the limits might not be enough to cover the full extent of a damage. For example, Sam has a $100,000 policy limit for personal liability insurance but is found responsible for another person’s serious and long-lasting injuries. The injured person needs life-long medical care and is unable to work due to the injury. In this scenario, the injured person’s damages could be millions of dollars. Unfortunately, Sam’s homeowner’s insurance policy may not be enough to cover the damages and he could be personally liable for anything more than the liability coverage.
Typically, insurance companies have a duty to defend and indemnify (compensate someone for harm or loss) policyholders. However, some insurance companies might try to avoid paying damages in bad faith or argue that the type of injury doesn’t fall within the policyholder’s coverage policy. In that case, the insured might have to file a lawsuit against the insurance company for damages to cover compensation to the injured party. This could also include costs of defending the lawsuit against the other party.
Who is Liable for Injuries Sustained on Government or Public Property?
Anyone who gets hurt on a government or public property has the right to seek damages for their injuries. A city, county, states, or federal government could be liable for any injuries sustained on the property. However, there are different standards for claims against public entities.
Generally, the statute of limitations for bringing a personal injury claim against a government entity is much shorter than other personal injury claims. When filing a claim against the government, the deadline is typically only six months.
To prove that a government or public entity was legally responsible for a dangerous condition on the premises, the victim must show the following:
- The property was in an unsafe condition at the time the victim got injured
- The injury was proximately caused by the unsafe condition
- The unsafe condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the type of injury that was sustained. This could have been the result of either a:
- Negligent act or omission of an employee of the government within the scope of his or her employment which created the dangerous condition
- The government agency had constructive or actual notice of the unsafe condition and enough time to take precautions to protect others against the unsafe condition
Additionally, a government entity could be held liable through a notice of the dangerous condition or an employee’s negligence. To establish a notice of the dangerous condition, you must show that the dangerous condition existed for a certain amount of time and is obvious in nature. Also, the public entity should have found out about the dangerous condition and its unsafe character which includes the following considerations:
- Whether the dangerous condition would have been discovered by a reasonably acceptable inspection system.
- Whether the government entity had an inspection system and didn’t discover the condition.
Contact Mesriani Law Group if You Have Suffered an Injury on Someone’s Property
If you or someone you know has been injured on someone else’s property because of their negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. You may receive compensation for economic and non-economic damages such as medical bills, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. At Mesriani Law Group, our personal injury lawyers have over 20 years of experience helping victims recover maximum compensation for premises liability cases and can help you with your case. Contact Mesriani Law Group today at (866) 500-7070 to schedule your free consultation.
Premises Liability Law FAQs
Who is liable for an accident on an easement in California?
A property easement is a scenario where the title to a of property gives someone other than the property owner the right to use part of the land for a specific purpose. In California, an easement can be granted to anyone including a government agency, a private company, a utility company, an individual, or a neighboring landowner. If a victim sustained injuries after an accident occurred on premises, any of these parties could be liable for damages.
Does California have a strict liability law?
Under strict liability law, a defendant could be held liable for an injury even if they weren’t negligent or found not at fault for causing an injury. California recognizes strict liability law under two circumstances including when a defendant has sold, manufactured, or distributed a defective product that resulted in someone’s injury or when a domestic animal with known dangerous behavior harms the victim. In California, strict liability laws typically relate to product liability laws and dog liability laws.
Is premises liability a cause of action?
In a premises liability cause of action, the victim must prove that he or she was injured because of the way the defendant managed the property. Specifically, under California law, the victim must prove the following conditions: the defendant owned, leased, occupied, or controlled the property; the defendant was negligent in the maintenance or use of the property; the victim was harmed; and the defendant’s negligence was a significant factor that caused the victim’s injuries.
What is the difference between premises liability and negligence?
A premises liability claim requires an occupier or property owner to use ordinary care to reduce or eliminate unreasonable risks created by dangerous condition on the property that the defendant is aware of or should be aware of to practice ordinary care. On the other hand, a general negligence claim involves activity where an owner or occupier fails to exercise the same amount of care that a reasonable person would in the same or similar circumstances.