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Injuries / Dec 24,2019

Property owners have a duty to address safety hazards

A slip and a fall may be a simple accident, but the laws that apply to it can be very complicated.

When a person is injured on property owned by another party, the injured may be able to recover compensation for their damages through a personal injury lawsuit based on the theory of premises liability. However, premises liability cases involve highly technical legal issues and their results can vary greatly depending on the exact circumstances of the injury.

One of the first questions that comes up in any premises liability case is about the status of the visitor. Property owners owe a duty of care to address safety hazards so as to avoid the risk of a foreseeable accident, but the extent of that duty depends upon the status of the visitor; that is, the reason the person was on their property. Under Colorado law, there three types of visitor: invitees, licensees and trespassers. A property owner’s duty is highest to an invitee and lowest toward a trespasser.

An invitee is a member of the public who is invited onto the property for the property owner’s benefit. For instance, customers in a store are members of the public who are invited into the store to shop. The customer assumes that the premises are reasonably safe, and a property owner has a duty to address safety hazards so as to avoid the likelihood that one of these invitees will be injured in a foreseeable accident.

A licensee is someone who is on the property for their own purposes, at the consent of the owner. For example, a neighbor who has permission to walk through another person’s back yard might be considered a licensee. The property owner’s duty toward licensees is somewhat lower than the duty toward invitees. The owner must use reasonable care to address known but hidden safety hazards. For example, if the owner has electrified wire running along the ground, the owner should at least warn the neighbor about it before they let them walk through the back yard.

A property owner has a much smaller duty toward trespassers, but this doesn’t mean that they can get away with deliberately hurting people. A trespasser may be able to recover compensation for damages if they can show that the property owner willfully or deliberately caused them harm. Essentially, this means a property owner can’t set a trap that is meant to injure trespassers.

As noted above, the status of the visitor represents one of the first questions asked in a premises liability case. There are many more. These cases can raise highly complex issues. However, for people who are injured in a slip and fall or similar accident, the damages can be very high. These lawsuits can be crucial ways of helping the injured and their families to recover the compensation they need and deserve.

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