Property owners, managers, lessees, and those in control of a piece of property are responsible for protecting others from potentially hazardous conditions on their premises in California. Failure to maintain the property or alert individuals of known dangers that result in injury or damage can make the property owner liable for any damages, economic or non-economic.
These laws are known as premises liability laws and help enforce responsibility for negligence upon property owners and provide guidelines for property owners to avoid lawsuits and negligence claims. Property owners have a duty of care mandated by law to ensure the reasonable safety of visitors and guests on their property, while visitors and guests have the same duty to practice reasonable care to not bring injury upon themselves.
Duty of Care Under California Civil Code 1714
California Civil Code section 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.”
Under this statute, any person who owns or manages property has a duty of care to maintain and inspect the property, repair dangerous conditions, or provide adequate warning of hazards to avoid potential liability.
An example of mitigating liability through an appropriate warning of dangerous conditions would be a “Wet Floor” sign on recently mopped tiles in a grocery store. However, if an unsafe condition is obvious enough that an ordinary individual would be reasonably expected to see it, the owner is not legally required to warn visitors and guests under the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) No. 1004, but “still must use reasonable care to protect against the risk of harm if it is foreseeable that the condition may cause injury to someone who because of necessity encounters the condition.”
A second example is an individual who rents a property having the responsibility to notify the property owner or manager of a dangerous condition for remediation. Failure to notify the property management can transfer partial liability to the lessee for not providing adequate opportunity for remediation of the unsafe conditions.
Determining Premises Liability
Several factors are involved in determining whether reasonable care was used to prevent injury or damages while the visitor was on the property.
These factors include:
- Property location
- Whether someone is likely to come onto the property in the same manner as the victim
- What the likelihood of harm was and the likely seriousness of that harm
- Whether the property owner or manager knew or should have known of the hazardous condition
- The difficulty of protecting against the harm risk and the property owner’s control over the condition causing the harm risk
Any of these factors can contribute or detract from the liability of the property owner, lessee, or manager, and it is important to consult with an attorney to determine exact liability.
Protection Against Premises Liability Lawsuits
California allows both economic and non-economic losses caused by premises liability lawsuits, which can be costly for a business or organization.
Mitigate Negligence Claims
A structured approach to hazards and potentially dangerous conditions is essential in mitigating claims of negligence for a company.
Firstly, regular inspections of the property to locate and identify potential hazards or unsafe conditions and detailed logs and reports of these inspections provides documentation of continued care towards premises safety.
Once hazards are identified, develop a mitigation plan to clean up, repair, or replace the components contributing to the dangerous conditions. Document all measures taken to eliminate the hazardous conditions for evidence in the event of an accident and negligence suit.
Until hazards are eliminated, warnings should be displayed or the area blocked off to prevent individuals from interacting with them. Should a visitor or guest ignore the signs or bypass cordons, they assume partial responsibility for the risk under California comparative negligence law.
Defending Against Premises Liability Lawsuits
Implementing protection, documentation, and remediation policies regarding hazards and dangerous conditions helps protect a business’s financial and reputational interests.
Possibly the most crucial aspect of avoiding legal vulnerabilities in premises liability is establishing a relationship with a top law office. Finding a legal team such as the attorneys at the Law Office of Katherine R. Moore provides a company with decades of corporate defense experience and insight into the most strategic arguments, motions, and solutions for resolving lawsuits.