Many people falsely believe that if someone is injured on another’s premises or land, the landowner is automatically responsible for the injuries. Unfortunately, it is quite a bit more complicated. A property owner is only liable for injuries on the premises when he knows of a dangerous condition and fails to exercise due care to fix the premises defect or provide an effective warning that will allow a user of the land to avoid injury. Knowledge of a defect does not always have to be actual. Under some circumstances, a landowner may be responsible for a dangerous condition when he only should have known or has reason to know of a dangerous condition.
The level of protection afforded users and entrants onto the land also varies depending on the status of the injured party. Trespassers, who the landowner may have little or no knowledge are entering the property, may have protection against only the very worst of conditions. By contrast, a paying customer at a retail store, restaurant, bar or shopping mall, because the owner knows of their presence, may have much greater protection.
Once notice is proven, it is still incumbent on the injured property to prove the landowner was negligent in not fixing the defect or notifying unsuspecting land users. The owner must have had time to correct the defect. If someone drops a cup of coffee in a restaurant and the owner immediately goes to get a mop to clean it up, he may not be negligent if an unsuspecting customer comes by in a few moments and slips on the wet floor. The standard is “ordinary care.” What would an ordinarily careful and prudent landowner do under the same or similar circumstances.