When one suffers an injury on another’s property in California, their first impulse may be the seek compensation from the property owner. This no doubt stems from the assumption that property owners maintain liability for any accidents or incidents that occur on their land. Yet is that truly the case?
The success of a premises liability claim depends on one establishing that a property owner owed them a duty of care (and that the property owner failed in fulfilling it). However, the interpretation of exactly what that responsibility entails can often be complex.
Defining a duty of care
At first glance, a property owner’s duty of care may seem very clear. Indeed, California’s Civil Jury Instructions clearly state that a property owner must exercise reasonable care in either eliminating unsafe conditions on their lands or warning visitors of their existence. In this context, “reasonable care” includes considerations such as:
- The property’s location
- The likelihood of a visitor coming on the property
- The likelihood and probable seriousness of harm
- The difficulty in protecting against the harm
- Whether the property know (or should have known) of a hazard’s existence
- The extent to which the property owner could control the hazard
In addition, the law seems to go even further in shifting liability on to property owners by stating that the state does not adhere to recognizing rigid visitor classifications (such as invitee, licensee or trespasser) when considering premises liability claims.
Introducing complexities into a liability case
However, in reference to the previous point, the law does allow those hearing a premises liability case to consider a person’s purpose of being on a property when considering the assignment of liability to the property owner.
Furthermore, property owners are not liable for incidents caused by minor, trivial or insignificant defects on their properties.