What is premises liability?

Premises are the land and buildings belonging to a landowner, usually a business or organization, or private property owner. Premises liability is the legal responsibility of the landowner for injuries suffered by persons on the property.

Premises liability cases include all types of accidents, from tripping in a neglected parking lot’s potholes to merchandise falling from high shelves in big-box stores.

What makes a premises liability case unique?

Most states have a premises liability statute that provides the duty of care owed by the landowner to others on their property. In Colorado, this statute is the Colorado Premise Liability statute, C.R.S. §13-21-115. Under this statute, the duty of the landowner depends upon the status of the injured party: whether a trespasser, a licensee (for example, social guests at your house) or an invitee (a person on the property for the purpose of conducting business, like a customer in a store).

Landowners are only liable to trespassers for “willfully or deliberately” causing injury. A licensee gets an intermediate standard of care, and may recover if a landowner actually knew about a dangerous condition and failed to fix the problem. Landowners owe the highest duty of care to invitees. In these cases, the landowner has an obligation to remediate dangers that are known, or should be discovered with the exercise of reasonable care.

While it may seem intuitive, one of the biggest issues in premises cases is whether the responsible party is a “landowner.”

In 2004, in Vigil v. Franklin, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the premise liability statute was the sole remedy available against a landowner for injuries sustained on land. Since that time, the courts have been finding the Premises Liability Act to be controlling in more varied types of cases. To be a “landowner” under the Act, one needs only be responsible for activities conducted on property. In one extreme example, in a 2014 decision, the Chafee County district court held that a Jeep tour operator was a landowner of National Forest roads because it operated there with a permit. A case of a Jeep rollover was thus made to proceed under the Premises Liability Act, rather than ordinary traffic law.

Any case where an injury occurs on someone’s property could theoretically become a premises liability case. These cases require a lawyer familiar with the nuanced differences in standards of care and with the many ways courts apply the term “landowner.” These claims require a thorough understanding of both the statute and the recent Colorado case law if they are to succeed.

What to expect from a premises liability lawsuit?

Because of the likely involvement of more than one defendant, a complete investigation is needed to fully determine liability for a premises liability accident. Colorado recognizes pro rata liability, so each defendant is responsible only for the percentage of liability allocated to it by the jury. In any personal injury action, plaintiffs generally name as defendants all parties who may share liability. A successful claim for a premises liability accident usually involves serious damages. Medical expenses for internal injuries and broken bones can easily run into six-figures.

The nature of the injuries suffered in many fall accidents often means expensive treatment and rehabilitation are needed over a long-term period. Other expenses which arise include future medical expenses, often coupled with a loss of income if the victim was previously employed. Frequently other family members lose time away from work as well. The injured victim may seek compensation from the negligent party for all of these expenses. Read more about Damages.

Accidents happen. What’s next?

Chalat Hatten & Banker can help. Let’s talk one-on-one about your case. We’ll answer your questions during a free, no-obligation consultation. Call 303.861.1042 today.

How We Helped a Client Win a Premises Liability Case

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