Premises Liability

Premises liability is a term in tort law, or civil wrongdoing, often applied to what are commonly known as “slip-and-fall” or “trip-and-fall” accidents. Accordingly, these terms refer to accidents in which a pedestrian trips or falls on publicly or privately owned premises. However, this body of law can refer to most injuries sustained by a visitor, regardless of the nature of the accident. These accidents are often attributed to a design, structure, or maintenance error, but are also occasionally determined to be caused by the negligence of the victim. The location, cause, and circumstances of the accident must be thoroughly investigated in order to determine who is at fault in this particular instance.

The case can rule in favor of either the victim or the proprietor. A case in favor of the victim often rules that the premises was not up to date with current building codes, or that the proprietor failed to adequately maintain and clean the premises, decreasing the safety of that location. However, it is often unclear as to whether the proprietor was obligated to provide a safe environment for visitors. Visitors are therefore defined in one of three ways: invitee, licensee, and trespasser. The specifics of these categories differ by state, but in general, the first two are considered lawfully on the property, while a trespasser is visiting illegally.

An invitee is a visitor, such as a customer in a store, whose presence benefits the business of the proprietor. He is tacitly entitled to a safe environment by said proprietor, more so than the other categories. A licensee is a person visiting for any purpose other than business, typically a social guest. The proprietor is obligated to warn a licensee of any dangers that a reasonable person would be unable to detect.

A trespasser is defined as a visitor serving their own purpose, and may be present with or without the knowledge of the proprietor. The visitor’s purpose in trespassing is not relevant, though the proprietor may be liable if he is aware of his visitor before the injury occurs. This is the category that is most likely to fall in favor of the proprietor, as he or she is not obligated to protect those not invited onto the property.

As is often the case in tort law, there is occasionally found what is called “comparative fault,” in which both the proprietor and the visitor are partially liable. In these cases, it is up to the courts to determine precisely what the damages are worth and what percentage each party must provide. For example, if a trespasser is injured on the property, but the proprietor is partially liable for damages, the proprietor will pay only a portion of the amount required to pay for damages.


Hickey Law Firm, P.A.. "Premises Liability-Overview." 2009.http://injury.findlaw.com/personal-injury/personal-injury-a-z/premises-liability.html (accessed July 19, 2010).

Larson, Aaron. "Premises Liability Law." October, 2003.http://www.expertlaw.com/library/premises_liability/premises_liability.html (accessed July 19, 2010).