Boston Premises Liability Lawyer
We have all probably heard a story or two about a person who slipped and fell on the sidewalk in front of someone else’s house or a store and was awarded lots of money as compensation. We sometimes turn our nose up at these “slip-and-fall” cases because we assume the plaintiffs exaggerated their injuries to make a fast buck. However, these cases, known as premises liability cases, occur because of negligent property owners or managers. Anyone in charge of a property, whether they own it or manage it, must make sure the property is safe for others.
The rules in a premises liability case will change depending on who the plaintiff is and how they know the defendant. A defendant’s duty of care is not the same for a trespasser or unknown visitor as it is for an invited guest. It is also possible that the plaintiff’s own negligent behavior could mitigate their damages and reduce the compensation they could recover. It is also important to understand that not every accident is grounds for a valid legal claim. Sometimes accidents are just that, accidents.
If you were injured in an accident when you entered someone else’s property, be it a friend’s house or a grocery store, you could be entitled to compensation. Property owners must make their properties safe for visitors. When they fail to fulfill this duty, people can get hurt. Schedule a free, confidential legal consultation for your case at the Law Office of John J. Sheehan. Call our Boston premises liability lawyers at (617) 925-6407 to get started right away.
Types of Premises Liability Claims in Boston
Issues of premises liability arise when a property owner fails to fulfill their legal duty of care to maintain their property and keep it safe for visitors and guests. However, this duty of care changes depending on who the plaintiff is. Not all visitors are owed the same duty of care. Your relationship with the defendant will influence how your case proceeds. Call our Boston premises liability lawyers to discuss your case.
Invitees are people who are invited onto a particular premise, like a store, to buy goods or services. Invitees include customers and patrons of businesses but could also include clients meeting service professionals for appointments. For example, common types of invitees are people entering a grocery store to do their weekly shopping. However, invitees can also include patients entering a doctor’s office for a checkup or clients entering a real estate office to meet with a real estate agent about selling their home.
Invitees are owed a very great duty of care because they are invited onto the premises and have a contractual relationship with the property owner. Invitees are often present for doing some sort of business. Property owners owe a duty to make the premises safe for the invitee, including remedying any known hazards and inspecting for possible unknown hazards.
A property owner may be liable for unknown hazards if the hazards are of a type that would reasonably be investigated and fixed by the property owner. For example, if a leaky pipe created a puddle in a grocery store, unbeknownst to the store owner or manager, they are still liable if someone slips and falls because puddles and messes are things they should reasonably be looking out for
Licensees are similar to invitees because they are also invited onto the premises. However, unlike invitees, licensees have no business or contractual relationship with the property owner. Licensees often include people welcomed onto the premises as social guests, like friends and neighbors coming over for a visit. Licensees can also include people who are unexpected but implicitly allowed on the property, like a mail carrier dropping a package at your door.
Licensees and invitees are legally different categories of people, but Massachusetts law makes no distinction between the two. A property owner owes the same or similar duty of care to a licensee as they would an invitee. Both categories are considered lawful entrants, and property owners must take care to remedy any known hazards and inspect for unknown hazards.
Tenants are unique because they are not just visitors to a particular property. Instead, tenants occupy the premises and live there full time. This puts tenants in the position of being both a possible plaintiff and a possible defendant.
A premises liability case could arise between a tenant and their landlord if the landlord fails to make the property safe for the tenant. Tenants are also in a more delicate situation because if something does go wrong, they often cannot simply leave the property. After all, it is their home. Landlords have a similar duty as mentioned above to ensure the property is safe and remedy any known and unknown hazards.
However, landlords might have a somewhat greater duty of care to inspect for serious or possibly long-term hazards. It might not be necessary for a property owner to inspect their home’s wiring or plumbing in preparation for their mail carrier. However, a landlord would be expected to check for those kinds of things because they affect their property’s habitability for the tenant.
Tenants can also become defendants in premises liability cases when someone they invite onto the premises, like a social guest, is injured because they failed to maintain the property. While landlords are responsible for issues like major repairs, a tenant might be responsible for everyday upkeep. If a social guest is injured because a tenant failed to clean up a wet floor, the tenant could be liable.
Trespassers are different from the previously mentioned plaintiffs because they are usually unknown to the property owner. Trespassers are not lawful entrants and are usually not owed any duty of care by the property owner because the owner has no way of knowing the trespasser is present. For example, a neighbor who enters your yard without permission and gets hurt cannot claim any damages because you owed them no duty of care.
It is possible for someone who is an invitee or licensee to become a trespasser if they enter an off-limits location. For example, when customers enter a grocery store, they are typically limited to the front of the store where merchandise is for sale. The back area of the store, where the store might receive deliveries and maintain storage, is often restricted to customers. If a customer enters the back area of the store without permission and is injured, they might be considered a trespasser.
Proving Liability in a Boston Premises Liability Case
Liability in most premises liability cases will be based on a theory of negligence. Proving someone acted negligently requires proving four critical elements in your case. These elements are duty, breach, causation, and damages. If any one of these elements is missing, you are not likely to be successful.
Duty refers to the legal duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. A legal duty of care does not necessarily need to be spelled out by the law or even expressly mentioned. In many cases, a duty of care is implied based on the relationship between the parties. In premises liability cases, a property owner owes a duty to maintain their property and keep it safe for visitors.
Breach refers to the violation of the defendant’s duty of care. A breach occurs when the defendant acts or fails to act in a way that leaves their legally imposed duty of care unfulfilled. In premises liability cases, the breach often involves the property owner failing to make necessary repairs or warn guests of safety hazards.
Causation is the element that links the defendant’s breach to your injuries. It is not enough that your accident happens after a breach. You must show that the accident was the proximate cause of the breach and not caused by other independent forces or factors.
The final element is damages and refers to your costs and injuries from the accident. You must show that your damages were real and not merely hypothetical. You cannot sue because you could have been injured. You must have actually been injured for there to be a valid claim. Our Boston premises liability lawyers can provide you with more information.
Common Claims in Premises Liability Cases in Boston
Under Massachusetts law, a person who has been injured in an accident that occurs on someone else’s property can hold the owner of that property and other entities responsible for his injuries and accountable in a premises liability claim.
There are a number of ways that a person can be injured on someone else’s property. These include:
- Swimming pool accidents and drownings
- Dog bites
- Toxic chemical exposure
- Slip and fall accidents
- Elevator accidents
- Escalator accidents
- Building and deck collapses
- Accidents that occur at public gatherings, like concerts
- Race and sexual assaults
- Accidents at amusement parks
- Injuries from falling merchandise in stores and supermarkets
These are just some of the ways in which a person can be injured or suffer physical or emotional harm on someone else’s property. Many hazards can exist on a property that can increase the risk of a person being injured. These include.
- Poor lighting
- Defective guardrails
- Defective stairs and stairwells
- Improperly stacked merchandise in stores
- Clutter on the floor
- Liquid spills on the floor
- Uneven flooring
- Non – traction flooring
- Elevator or escalator defects
- Failure to provide adequate security
- Building code violations
- Failure to secure or restrain a dog on a property
A defendant’s duty of care will vary depending on what kind of property they have and what kind of dangers exist. Someone who owns an expansive wooded area will have to manage their property differently than someone who owns a retail store. Despite this, the duty of care remains the same. Property owners must make the premises safe for lawful entrants. If you were injured on someone else’s property, call our Boston premises liability attorneys for help.
Parties to Blame in a Boston Premises Liability Accident
In many cases, the identity of the defendant is not always totally clear. You might think that you should sue the property owner for your damages. Then again, maybe it was the duty of an employee, like a manager, to take care of the property, and you should sue them instead. What if more than one person owns the property? Determining the appropriate defendant is an important part of any premises liability case.
Several parties may be named in a premises liability claim, like the owner of the property, managers or supervisors, caretakers, or anybody else who had a responsibility to ensure the safety of visitors to the property. Determining a defendant is not based on a title like “owner” or “manager.” Instead, the defendant or defendants are anyone who owed a legal duty of care to the plaintiff.
If you are unsure who to name as your defendant, our Boston premises liability attorneys can help you. It is often a good idea to name as many defendants as possible at the beginning of your case because it is easier to remove them if they are unnecessary than it is to add them later if they become important. In any case, the first people we should be looking at are the property owners and any people hired to manage the property.
In other cases, we might have to look at a tenant and their landlord. While the landlord is responsible for many major aspects of maintenance of the property, the tenant is liable for everyday wear and tear. We will need to examine how your accident happened to figure out who breached their duty of care.
Premises Liability Damages in Boston
Under Massachusetts law, a person who suffers injuries on someone else’s property may be eligible for damages that include loss of income because of the injury, medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering. Usually, greater injuries lead to higher costs for the plaintiff, which means they can claim greater damages and compensation from the defendant. Our Boston premises liability attorneys can help you with any damages you have.
Damages often fall into three broad categories: compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages. Compensatory damages cover all the losses you incurred as a result of your accident. Things like medical bills and wages lost from missed work fall under this category. Compensatory damages can also cover non-economic or non-tangible losses. Pain and suffering, both physical and mental, do not usually come with a financial cost to the plaintiff. However, courts recognize that pain and suffering are a direct result of a defendant’s negligence, and they should be held accountable.
Punitive damages do not cover the costs to the plaintiff. Instead, these damages are meant to punish the defendant and deter future bad behavior. Massachusetts has barred punitive damages in nearly all cases except wrongful death lawsuits. Even in those lawsuits, special circumstances must be present for plaintiffs to recover punitive damages. Unless you are suing on behalf of a family member who died on someone else’s property, you will likely not be awarded any punitive damages.
Nominal damages are very small, sometimes as little as a single dollar, and are intended to prove a point more than compensate the plaintiff. Nominal damages are more appropriate when a plaintiff suffered little harm but wishes to hold the defendant responsible in order to prove a point.
For example, suppose your defendant owned multiple restaurants in your city, and they failed to properly maintain any of those restaurants despite numerous warnings and complaints. If you were slightly injured because of this negligence but suffered little actual harm, you could sue for nominal damages. The point of your lawsuit would be to hold the property owner accountable for repeated bad behavior rather than to get compensation.
Contact Our Boston Premises Liability Attorneys
If you were involved in an accident on someone else’s property, contact our Boston premises liability attorneys for help. If the property owner’s negligence caused your accident, you might be entitled to compensation. Set up a free legal consultation at the Law Office of John J. Sheehan. Call (617) 925-6407 to get help now.