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.
What is North Carolina Premises Liability?
Like most states, North Carolina premises liability refers to personal injury lawsuits where the owner of a property may be held financially responsible for any injuries suffered by a lawful visitor to the property, if the owner failed to act reasonably to keep the visitor safe. If the visitor can prove (by a preponderance of the evidence) that the owner was negligent in allowing the visitor to get injured, then the victim may be eligible to receive financial compensation.
When are You Owed a Duty of Care?
If you are a lawful visitor to a public or private property, the property owner/manager owes you a certain “duty of care” to fix, restrict access to, or advise of any dangerous conditions on the premises within a reasonable amount of time. If the owner fails to meet their duty and you are injured on their property, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit.
For example, imagine you unknowingly walk through a spill of slick liquid at your local Wilmington grocery store and fall hard to the floor sustaining significant injury. This triggers the threshold question: When did the spill occur? Was the staff aware of it? Should they have been? Did they have a reasonable amount of time to clean up the spill, block off the area, or post a sign warning about the slippery surface? If they had taken measures, were they good enough?
Trespassers and Premises Liability
If you enter a property – or a part of someone’s property – unlawfully, then you are likely considered a trespasser. If this is the case and you are an adult, then the only duty of care that the owner owes you is to refrain from causing intentional harm, for example, by setting a trap.
Another exception arises in the case of a child who wanders onto property that has something particularly interesting, attractive, and potentially dangerous on it, like a swimming pool or playground equipment. In this case, the property owner may still owe a duty of care to the child if it is reasonable to expect that children might be tempted to enter without permission. If so, adequate precautions should have been taken.
Types of Premises Liability Cases
Premises liability cases are characterized somewhat by where and how they happen. . Over the years we have handled all kinds of these legal disputes in our Wilmington, NC, office, including:
- Slip and fall, or trip and fall
- Construction accidents
- Animal attacks and dog bites
- Parking lot accidents
- Insufficient or negligent security
- Poor lighting
- Escalator or elevator accidents
- Stairwell accidents
- Swimming pool accidents
- Falling objects
This list is by no means exhaustive.
Types of Damages You May Be Able to Claim in a Premises Liability Case
If you are injured in a premises liability accident, you may be eligible to recover financial compensation for your damages. Here are some of the common types of damages you may pursue:
- All medical expenses, past and future, related to the accident
- Rehabilitation, physical therapy, and transportation to visits
- OTC and prescription medication
- Medical devices required for mobility and independence
- Home health assistance
- Lost wages and loss of earning capacity
- Physical pain and emotional suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Premises liability injuries are not always evident in the immediate aftermath of an accident with your adrenaline flowing and your mind racing to catch up with what you just experienced. It is important to pay attention to your body and seek medical attention just to be sure that you are okay. Don’t rule out the need to claim damages for medical treatment you may need now and over time. The attorneys of Rhine Law Firm will review more about your potential claim for damages in your initial consultation. We can also discuss pre-litigation negotiation and the
Proving a Premises Liability Claim
To prove a property owner violated the duty of care to a lawful visitor, you must prove that:
- The plaintiff was injured by a defect or dangerous condition on premises owned or controlled by the defendant; and
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Drywall from China.
- Communicable disease.
- Earnings loss.
- Fungi, bacteria, lead, or asbestos.
- Terrorist attacks.
- 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.
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.
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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 30 years, Rhine Law Firm, P.C., has been successfully representing Wilmington injury victims and their families. Call (910) 772-9960 for a free case evaluation.
If you are injured in a premises liability accident, please see an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as you can. North Carolina’s statutes of limitations dictate how long you have to file a premises liability lawsuit. Our first order of business will be to ensure you meet all notice requirements and file a complaint before the statute expires.
For more than 34 years, Rhine Law Firm has represented residents in and around our beautiful port city of Wilmington and other areas throughout the state of North Carolina. And it is our privilege to continue. If you have been injured in a premises liability accident, please call Rhine Law Firm today to arrange a complimentary case review. You will never see a bill from us unless you win your case.
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Although our primary office location is in Wilmington, North Carolina we represent clients nationally and across the state of North Carolina. Some of the many areas we serve are listed below.
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