Property Owners and Injury Liability

Continued from: Property Owners & Injury Liability

Who is Liable for Injury & Damages?

Property Owners vs. "Occupants"

All of the above discussion uses the word "premises owners," but in reality, liability can extend farther than just the owner of the premises. Sometimes, renters can be held responsible for premises liability issues too, depending on the situation. For example, it is common for renters to be responsible for any hazards inside of their apartment, while landlords are liable for any damages caused in common areas. Likewise, if a store or restaurant is renting a building, they are going to be responsible for what happens within it.

It is a common misconception that a landlord's insurance will cover property owners. This is not necessarily the case. If an apartment renter is sued because of a dangerous condition inside of his or her own apartment, then generally the landlord's insurance would not extent protection in that case, since the insured is the landlord and not the renter. To ensure protection from liability (as well as protection of the assets kept inside of their apartment), renters should purchase a renter's insurance policy.

Third Party Liability Issues

Sometimes an injury on a property can actually lead to a few different possible lawsuits against several different people or entities. For example, if a slide was defective on a playground, it is possible that the playground owner would be liable for the injury for failure to inspect the slide or to notice and warn of dangers. If the defect was caused by a manufacturer's problem with the slide, this could also give rise to a lawsuit against the slide's maker under product liability laws. In such cases, it is a good idea to speak to a lawyer about exactly who should be the defendant in the claim. Often, both can be.

Public Property & Government Liability

It is important to note that there may be different rules for public property or for property that is owned by the government. For example, if you are driving along an icy street that has not been cleared and you get into an accident, you may wonder if you can sue the municipality or town for not properly clearing the street and making it safe to pass on. However, the law generally protects municipalities from exactly this type of lawsuit, since it is not practical or possible for them to make all conditions like this safe at all times on every road.

This doesn't mean the government never has liability for creating an unsafe situation. If the government creates a road condition that is unsafe based on the design or the structure of the road, there may be some situations in which it can be held responsible. In addition, if you go to a government building like the DMV or the post office, the government does have a responsibility to make sure those buildings are reasonably safe for visitors. Dangerous public sidewalks can also lead to injury and can give rise to a premises liability claim.

There are different rules for filing a lawsuit against a government entity that it is important to be aware of. Many of these rules are established under the Federal Tort Claims Act. This act introduced exceptions to sovereign immunity to allow the federal government to be sued for negligence on the part of its employees. Your recovery is limited to monetary damages only, and you must make claims in writing within a two year period. You may also need to give the government an opportunity to settle the case before you are actually able to file suit.

States also have their own governmental immunity laws in place that protect local governments. These rules differ from state to state, but often impose a very low duty or standard of care on government entities in order to help avoid liability. There are again exceptions that do allow you to sue. For example, for special defects (things that create an unexpected danger, like a red light being out or a barrier that has fallen into the middle of the road), the government can be held liable if it knew or should have known of the danger.

State and federal governments can be sued, just like anyone else can, but it is a little more limited as to when you can do so and it can be difficult to bring your claim.

Next Steps

5. Defective Products and Dangerous Drugs
6. Car Accident Cases
7. Medical Malpractice

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