A premises liability lawsuit is one involving an injury caused by some dangerous condition on another person’s property. According to a 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, premises liability lawsuits are among the most common personal injury cases decided by juries in the United States.
These kinds of lawsuits are commonly known as “slip and fall” lawsuits, but they can be caused by many different kinds of problems, such as:
- Slipping or tripping hazards, such as a spilled liquid or uneven floor;
- Falling hazards, such as holes or large drop-offs;
- Overhead dangers, such as old branches or store inventory stacked too high;
- Mechanical hazards, such as an exposed electrical wire or malfunctioning equipment.
In Ohio, your ability to recover damages for injuries you suffered in a premises liability action is determined largely by how you came to be in the place where you were injured. This is because Ohio continues to use an archaic system of deciding what duties a property owner owes to those on his or her property. In this post, we briefly discuss the general rules of Ohio premises liability and some important exceptions.
The Elements of Premises Liability
Like most other personal injury claims, premises liability lawsuits are negligence actions. As in other negligence actions, to prevail in a premises liability lawsuit you must generally prove that:
- The defendant owed you a duty;
- The defendant breached that duty; and
- The defendant’s breach was the cause
- Of damages to you.
Normally in personal injury lawsuits, that first element — duty — is straightforward. Every driver has a duty to drive in a reasonably safe manner, for instance.
However, the duty element is not so simple in premises liability cases. In such cases, a defendant’s duty to a plaintiff depends on how the plaintiff came to be on the defendant’s property. In general, Ohio law recognizes three primary statuses for plaintiffs: invitee, licensee, and trespasser.
An invitee is someone who rightfully comes onto another’s property by invitation for some purpose which is beneficial to the owner. For example, when a shopper goes to the supermarket to buy groceries, the shopper is the supermarket’s invitee.
With respect to an invitee, a landowner must exercise ordinary care for the invitee’s safety and protection. This includes a duty to warn of dangers on the property that the invitee cannot be reasonably expected to discover for themselves. For example, supermarkets must exercise ordinary care to discover and clean any spills in their aisles, and to warn customers of the spills until they can clean them.
Exception: Open and Obvious Dangers
When a danger is “open and obvious,” a landowner owes no duties with respect to that danger. A danger is open and obvious when it is such that an invitee (or licensee or trespasser) can reasonably be expected to discover it and protect themselves against it.
Exception: Recreational Users
A person to whom permission has been granted, without the payment of a fee or consideration . . . other than . . . a lease payment or fee . . . to enter upon premises to hunt, fish, trap, camp, hike, or swim, or to operate a snowmobile, all-purpose vehicle, or four-wheel drive motor vehicle, or to engage in other recreational pursuits.
A licensee is someone who enters another’s premises by permission or acquiescence for his or her own pleasure or benefit. For example, if the owner of a parking lot permits free use of his or her lot on Sundays without encouraging such use, the Sunday users of the parking lot are licensees.
A landowner owes licensees only the duty to refrain from willfully, wantonly, or recklessly causing injury. If the landowner knows that the licensee is present on his or her land, then he must use ordinary care to avoid injuring the licensee, including by warning of hidden dangers.
A trespasser is someone who enters another’s property without authorization, for his or her own purposes or convenience. A landowner generally owes the same duties to a trespasser as to a licensee.
Exception: Attractive Nuisance
Since 2001, the Ohio courts have recognized the doctrine of “attractive nuisance,” which is designed to give children who trespass greater protections than adult trespassers. Specifically, this doctrine applies when a trespassing child is injured by an artificial condition on the land and:
- The condition exists in a place where the landowner knows or has reason to know children are likely to trespass;
- The landowner knows or should know that the condition poses an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to trespassing children;
- The children do not discover the condition or do not realize the risk that it poses because of their youth;
- The utility of maintaining the condition and the burden of eliminating it are slight compared to the risk posed to the children; and
- The landowner fails to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or otherwise protect the children.
Example: In Bennett v. Stanley, the case in which the Ohio Supreme Court adopted the “attractive nuisance” doctrine, a 5-year-old boy drowned in his neighbors’ unattended, unmaintained, and unprotected swimming pool. The boy was trying to investigate the frogs that lived in the pool. The Court found the landowner to have a duty to the child.
Have you been injured on someone else’s property?
Premises liability is a surprisingly complicated area of personal injury law. Even aspects that in other contexts might be taken for granted are subject to arcane and technical rules.
These complex rules make it all the more important that you contact the experienced Ohio personal injury attorneys of Plevin & Gallucci if you’ve been injured on someone else’s property. We are standing by ready to help and our consultations are always free. Contact us today through our online form or by calling 1-855-4-PLEVIN (1-855-475-3846).