Property and business owners have a duty to take precautions to maximize the safety of customers, tenants and guests. Premises liability deals with a wide array of faulty and dangerous conditions, including:
Objects or debris left on floors
Unsafe store displays including merchandise stacked too high on shelves
Parking lot hazards
Faulty stairways, handrails and walkways
Inadequate lighting in parking lots and building entryways
Inadequate security contributing to assaults at hotels, apartments, businesses, malls and other establishments in any area where crime is a problem
Faulty conditions in common areas of housing developments such as apartments and condominiums
Faulty elevators or escalators
Unsafe golf course design
Swimming pool injuries
A person who is injured by a faulty condition on another person’s property may be entitled to recover compensation for their injuries from the property owner. As in all cases involving negligence, liability depends on whether the property owner owed the injured person a duty of care and whether that duty of care was breached.
In Washington the degree of duty a property owner owes you depends on whether your injury happened in a setting in which you were an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. Property owners owe the highest duty to their business or public invitees. If you are on another’s property at the owner’s express or implied invitation because you are there to conduct business or use the property for the purposes for which it is open to the public, you are probably an invitee and the owner owes you a high degree of duty to use ordinary care to keep the property in reasonably safe condition, including a duty to actively look for and fix problems. If the problem cannot be fixed, invitees must be warned.
In contrast, a guest at someone’s house would be considered a licensee. A property owner’s duty of care to their licensees is less than that owed by property owners to invitees. The lowest duty of care is owed to a person who is trespassing. There is no duty to warn a trespasser of dangerous, natural conditions. Nevertheless, there may be a duty to warn of dangerous, manmade conditions.
A certain category of premises liability cases are slip and fall or trip and fall cases. These are cases where someone suffers injury from a fall caused by a slippery surface or a dangerous condition that causes the person to trip. Though falls occur quite frequently, these cases are very difficult to prove. In order to establish liability you must prove that the property owner either knew or should have known of the dangerous condition. This involves securing evidence such as incident reports and surveillance video, which is often destroyed very quickly. It also means that witnesses to the fall need to be interviewed right away. When a slip and fall or trip and fall occurs, it is important that you obtain legal representation quickly so that key evidence, and your right to bring a claim, can be preserved.
Thousands of dog bites and attacks occur in Washington every year. Unfortunately, many of these injuries require extensive surgery. What makes this statistic even more frightening is that children are often the victims, and they may suffer psychological or emotional injuries in addition to permanent physical scarring.
Premises liability also includes injuries caused by dog bites. Dog owners in our state have clear responsibilities to control and supervise their animals. They are liable for bites inflicted by their dogs while the victim is in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the dog owner. Dog owners can be liable even if the dog has no history of viciousness or if owners have no knowledge of such viciousness.
When dog owners do have knowledge that a dog is vicious or dangerous, they must take extra precautions to protect the public from the dog, such as the following:
Registering the dog as dangerous
Keeping the dog in a securely enclosed and locked structure
Keeping the dog restrained and/or muzzled when it is outside
Displaying a sign warning people of the dangerous dog
Maintaining adequate insurance coverage for injuries caused by the dog
If you are seriously injured in a recreational setting, you will need an attorney who is experienced in assessing the legal standards that apply to your injury because the applicable legal standards vary depending on factors that are probably unknown and unsuspected by you as you start to deal with your injury. We have successfully represented clients who have been seriously injured and families of those who have died in a wide variety of recreational settings. Examples of our successful experience include death due to guide negligence on Mt. Kilimanjaro, the negligence of a high school’s swimming coaches, the design of a high school football stadium that did not conform to recognized safety standards and the negligence of Washington State in failing to maintain its state campgrounds free of dangerously rotted trees, as well as many other settings in which our clients or their loved ones were seriously injured or killed.
The settings in which recreational injuries occur vary greatly enough to defy listing, but certain settings recur with some regularity:
At the gym or other recreational business
At organized sporting events
In guided or ticketed activities
In parks on public or private open land
In a business setting, such as at a gym, the law that applies will likely include what we have previewed for you in our premises liability pages. However, there are likely also to be contract issues because you have probably signed some form of contract that seeks to limit or eliminate the owner’s liability.
In organized sports, injury often occurs in a school setting where student athletes are injured in school-sponsored athletic programs. The rules defining the injured athlete’s ability to recover may be affected by a combination of coaching standards, known and accepted risks of injury, contract issues, premises liability/facility design standards and rules defining governmental liability.
Another category of cases with various applicable legal standards is that consisting of injuries arising in guided, contracted, or ticketed settings. This category is made up of any recreational activities for which you might sign a contract or buy a ticket to participate. These can be almost any activity from guided treks, to skiing, to mountain climbing, to cruises. For this class of recreational injuries, not only are industry standards of conduct important, but understanding contracts, their reach and their limits, is paramount because by signing a contract or, in many cases, by simply buying a ticket that has terms and conditions printed on it, the person or organization responsible will almost certainly argue that you have signed away some or all of your legal rights.
We also see a number of cases in which a person has been injured while recreating in non-contract situations on Washington’s open or public lands and parks. In these cases, the injured victim’s first hurdle is to overcome the property owner’s immunity from being held accountable for injuries occurring on the property. This is because of the laws in Washington that give landowners far-reaching immunity from personal injury lawsuits to encourage them to open up their lands for public recreation where no fee has been charged for the use of the land.
These recreational use laws extend beyond private owners of recreationally desirable tracts of raw, unimproved land to potentially immunize from liability cities, counties and the State of Washington in their ownership, operation and maintenance of parks, campgrounds and other public recreation sites and facilities. In cases involving injury occurring on open or public lands, parks and campgrounds, you will need an attorney thoroughly familiar with the intricacies of the recreational use immunity statutes and the case law interpreting those statutes who can critically examine and appraise for you the condition that caused your injury, the owner’s knowledge of that condition and any fees that were charged for your use of the land as those factors bear on both the landowner’s immunity and ultimate legal responsibility.
Our attorneys are well versed in premises liability law and can assess for you what your status on the property was – invitee, licensee, or trespasser – and the nature and extent of the owner’s duty to you. If a duty owed to you was violated, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, including, but not limited to, your medical expenses, your lost income and your pain and suffering.