Property owners are legally obligated to maintain a reasonable degree of safety for visitors on their premises. When property owners fail to protect their guests from foreseeable accidents, they can be held responsible for resulting injuries. If you have been injured because of dangerous property conditions, you may be able to file a premises liability claim against the property owner or manager for dangerous or hazardous conditions on the property. Premises liability claims can include trip and falls, slip and falls, structural collapses, construction accidents, accidental drownings, and injuries due to the foreseeable criminal conduct of third parties. Premises liability accidents can occur at homes, businesses, shopping centers, bars and clubs, restaurants, apartment complexes, and parking lots. If you have been injured as the result of a premises liability accident, contact us to discuss the legal options available to you.
Elements of a Premises Liability Claim
Under South Carolina law, to recover in a premises liability case, the plaintiff must prove: (1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) the defendant’s breach of that duty by a negligent act or omission; (3) the defendant’s breach was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury; and (4) the plaintiff suffered an injury or damages. In this instance, the plaintiff will be able to establish all four elements by a preponderance of evidence.
The first element in a cause of action for premises liability is the existence of a legal duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. The duty of the owner or occupier toward a person to maintain his land in a certain condition is determined by the status of the plaintiff. South Carolina recognizes four general classifications of persons who come on premises: adult trespassers, invitees, licensees and children.
An invitee is a person who enters upon the premises of another at the express or implied invitation of the owner or occupier of the property, particularly where the person is upon a matter of mutual interest or advantage to the owner or occupier. Under South Carolina law, a business visitor is an invitee because his purpose for being on the property is directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the owner or occupier and there is a mutual benefit. The invitee is offered the utmost duty of care by the owner or occupier of the premises. The owner or occupier owes an invitee the duty of exercising reasonable care for his safety and is liable for injuries resulting from the breach of this duty. The owner or occupier has a duty to use reasonable care to prevent an invitee from suffering bodily injury by discovering foreseeable unreasonable risks and taking safety precautions to warn of or eliminate them.
Breach of Duty
The second element in a cause of action for premises liability is the defendant’s breach of duty by a negligent act or omission. A breach of duty exists when it is foreseeable that conduct may likely injure a person to whom a duty is owed.
Breach of the duty of care can also be shown by the violation of applicable industry standards. The owner or occupier of a premises must ensure that their property remains compliant with all applicable industry standards. When an owner or occupier fails to abide by these minimum standards, they create and allow an unsafe environment for invitees.
The third element in a cause of action for premises liability is that the defendant’s breach was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Proximate cause is the efficient or direct cause of an injury.
In this instance, there is a clear mechanism of an objective injury. Mrs. Moore tripped on the hazardous mat and threshold, causing her to fall forward and violently strike her left shoulder on the improperly placed box. As a direct and proximate result of this fall, Mrs. Moore sustained a comminuted, displaced fracture of the left proximal humerus, which required surgery. This serious, painful injury would not have occurred but for the breaches of duty by Hymans Seafood.
Injury and Damage
The fourth element in a cause of action for premises liability is injury and damage. The most frequent injuries we see in premises liability cases are complex fractures of bones which require open reduction internal fixation surgery to install pins and screws to repair the fracture. We also see a high incidence of spinal disc herniations and burst fractures. These are serious and often permanent injuries that result in significant medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent impairment and scarring, all of which are recoverable damages in premises liability cases.
Premises Liability Defenses
Defendants in premises liability actions frequently raise the affirmative defenses of open and obvious condition and comparative negligence. In response, we often argue that the dangerous condition was a latent defect. A latent defect is one which an owner or occupier has, or should have, knowledge of, and of which an invitee is reasonably unaware. It is one which a reasonably careful inspection will not reveal. Subtle defects, like variations from building codes and standards are often not recognized by people as they interact with the built environment. It is often necessary to employ an expert witness in the areas of engineering or human factors to assist in addressing the issues of liability and defenses.
Premises Liability / Trip & Fall / Slip & Fall Attorney
It is important to retain counsel who are experienced in evaluating and litigating premises liability cases to maximize the value of your case. The application of building codes and building standards can be complex. It is also important to retain counsel who can afford to advance case expenses to retain an expert witness where necessary. If you have been seriously injured in a premises liability, trip and fall or slip and fall case, please contact us to discuss the legal options available to you.