Premises Liability

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Wilmington Premises Liability Attorneys

Legal Help After a Premises Injury

Premises liability refers to a property owner or operator’s responsibility for keeping the property reasonably safe for lawful visitors. This responsibility is known as a "duty of care." If a property owner or operator breaches the duty of care, he or she may be held liable for any injuries caused by the breach while on the property.

Who Can Be Held Liable?

In general, a property’s owner is charged with keeping his or her property safe. This could be a homeowner, a business owner, the owner of a rental property, or a municipality. However, the owner is not always the only person whose actions or omissions cause injuries. In a case where someone is renting a property but acting as landlord, that person may be held liable.

In many instances, we look at the person or entity that controlled the activities giving rise to the dangerous condition, or who could have prevented the dangerous condition. This is a factual determination that an experienced lawyer is best situated to handle.

Common Wilmington Premises Liability Accidents

Some of the more common premises liability cases seen in the Tar Heel State include dock and deck collapses, dog bites, swimming pool accidents and drownings, electrocutions, elevator and escalator accidents, falls from heights, burns, chemical burns, amusement park ride accidents, and more.

But not all premises liability cases involve accidents. A property owner or renter can be held liable for allowing a dangerous situation of any kind to exist. For instance, if a business doesn’t provide adequate security for its customers and one is assaulted, the business owner may be held liable if several conditions are met.

Who Can Sue?

North Carolina recognizes that a landowner owes a duty of reasonable care to all "lawful visitors." Basically a "lawful visitor" is one who is on the property legally, not trespassing.

Only on very rare occasions can a trespasser prevail in these actions. For example, a trespassing child may recover legal compensation under the “attractive nuisance” doctrine, such as when that child was injured in an unfenced pool.

Proving a Premises Liability Claim

To prove a property owner violated the duty of care to a lawful visitor, you must prove that:

  1. The plaintiff was injured by a defect or dangerous condition on premises owned or controlled by the defendant; and
  2. The plaintiff’s injury was "proximately caused" by the defendant’s failure to:
    a) Keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition, AND
    b) Warn of "hidden perils" or unsafe conditions that the defendant knew about or could have discovered had he conducted a reasonable inspection.

In many instances, we deal with conditions that violate the North Carolina building code or similar enactment. In these instances, we hire expert witnesses to prove the violation.

Off-Site Landlord Liability

Premises liability places responsibility on the landowner, occupier, or controller of the property. A landlord may be the legal owner of the property, but may not be actively in possession or control of it. Under common law, landlords not in control of the property are generally not liable for injuries.

The North Carolina Residential Rental Agreement Act requires landlords to maintain their properties in compliance with building and housing codes, as well as to keep the premises in "fit and habitable" condition. Usually the landlord is responsible for repairs; therefore, if a failure to make repairs to a dangerous condition leads to an injury, he or she may be liable. In apartment units there are common areas outside of the tenant living area, such as sidewalks and stairwells. A landlord also has a duty to keep these common areas in safe condition.

Vacation Rental Liability

With North Carolina’s many vacation rental properties, particularly in the coastal regions, the topic of liability is quite common. People renting vacation properties are encouraged to inspect the property upon arrival for any potentially dangerous conditions.

In 1999, the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act (VRA) was passed, which outlines the obligations, rights, and responsibilities of all parties including the landlords, tenants, and real estate brokers or management companies, when applicable. Generally, the provisions require landlords to address matters including plumbing, electricity, heating/cooling, and appliances.

In recent years, cases of premises liability have been brought against landlords in incidents involving deck, dock, and walkway collapses. Often, rental agreements have "hold harmless" provisions, which apply to unit features such as pools and hot tubs, releasing their insurance providers from liability.

Recreational Usage of Land

The Landowner Limited Liability Law was established to encourage landowners to allow public access to their land for recreational purposes. Those freely using this recreational land may not bring action against landowners for injuries unless it is determined that the injury was a result of deliberate intent or malice.

Liability in Airbnb

Airbnb in an online market that functions as a broker between people seeking rentals for vacations, apartment leases, hotel rooms, and room rentals and "hosts" looking to lease or rent. The company claims to have successfully facilitated over 60 million of these arrangements and competes with Expedia’s HomeAway. Airbnb has established its own Host Protection Insurance plan, which offers protection for up to one million dollars in liability claims. It provides coverage for landlords and homeowner associations in cases where guests are injured during a stay. It also includes coverage for damage to property, vandalism, and theft. The program excludes claims resulting from:

  • Acts done intentionally.
  • Assault, battery, or sexual abuse.
  • Earnings loss.
  • Drywall from China.
  • Fungi, bacteria, lead, or asbestos.
  • Communicable disease.
  • Terrorist attacks.
  • Pollution.
  • Product liability.

Hosts using their property as a rental space on a continuous basis will likely be considered "operating a business" in the eyes of homeowners insurance providers. Most policies will not cover this commercial activity.

Defenses

Contributory Negligence

Premises liability cases are tough because the doctrine of contributory negligence is alive and well in North Carolina. This doctrine requires the injured person to have exercised the same care an ordinarily prudent person would have exercised under the same circumstances, and to not have contributed in any way to causing the injury.

For example, if a dangerous condition is visible and obvious, and an ordinarily prudent person would have noticed and avoided the dangerous condition, the injured person/plaintiff will be barred from recovery. In order to combat this defense, it is important to carefully examine all the facts surrounding the condition and injury and compare those facts to case laws where our courts have addressed similar situations.

Assumption of Risk

Under common law, the landowner’s duty of care varies based on the entrant’s classification as a licensee, invitee, or trespasser. North Carolina eliminated this distinction, instead stating that owners should provide "reasonable care to lawful visitors on their premises." In an assumption of risk defense, the burden of proof is dependent on two key elements: that knowledge of risk existed and that the plaintiff consented to the risk.

Sometimes this defense is used in cases of injury among those who are spectators at sporting events. Generally, the assumption of risk defense applies when there is some relationship established (contract) between the parties.

Statute of Limitations

In North Carolina, a premises liability claim must be filed within three years of the injury occurrence. If you have been injured due to an unsafe condition on someone else’s property, you may be entitled to compensation from that property’s owner. But premises liability claims can be quite complicated and may require extensive litigation. To get the compensation you deserve, you’ll need the representation of an experienced Wilmington personal injury attorney. For over 25 years, Rhine Law Firm, P.C., has been successfully representing North Carolina injury victims and their families. Call (866) 772-9960 for a free case evaluation.

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