FAQ: Premises Liability

If someone falls and hurts herself on a hotel's premises, does she have any recourse against the hotel?

A hotel might be liable if someone slips or trips and fall on hotel premises. For example, if someone slips on spilled food or drink in a hotel bar or restaurant, snow and ice that has not been cleared from a walkway, or on wet tile floors or other slick surfaces, the hotel might be liable if it knew or should have known about the danger and failed to warn visitors or clean it up. A hotel could also be liable if someone is injured because of a design or building flaw (such as steps that are too steep), or due to the hotel's failure to light an area properly.

Can a hotel be held responsible if someone is the victim of a crime at or near the hotel?

A hotel usually cannot be held liable for crimes committed on or near the hotel unless it should have anticipated the crime (for example, the hotel is in a very high crime area) and could have prevented it, either by providing sufficient warnings or taking better security measures. In such situations, the hotel's general duty to warn you about dangerous conditions may extend to a duty to warn about crime in or around the hotel. Furthermore, the hotel's actions-such as failure to install proper locks on windows and doors, provide adequate lighting in parking areas or take adequate measures to ensure that pass keys are not used by criminals may make the hotel at least partially liable.

Can a college or school be held liable for an attack on a student that occurred on campus?

A student attacked on a college campus might have a negligence action against the college. In a developing area of premises liability law, courts have found entities such as universities, motels, convenience stores and shopping malls liable for attacks because they did not exercise reasonable care in preventing victims from being harmed by a third person. In general, a hotel must provide adequate security and not permit people to loiter. In a case involving a college campus, a court would look at the facts and ask whether similar attacks had occurred previously in the same area. If so, the court would ask what security precautions the college had taken, and might find that the steps taken were insufficient, holding the college liable.

If someone falls on a broken piece of a city sidewalk and is injured, can they sue the city?

In many states, statutes giving local governmental entities immunity prohibit recovery in many kinds of cases against cities or towns. If there is not such a statute or ordinance in place, however, someone may have a case against the city. Municipalities have a duty to keep streets and sidewalks in repair. An injured party might have a successful case against the city if he or she can show that it failed to maintain the sidewalk properly. There are very important deadlines and procedural requirements for bringing such claims, so you may want to speak with an attorney if you believe that a municipality is responsible for your injuries.

Can someone attacked after withdrawing money from an automated teller machine (ATM) hold the bank responsible for the attack?

Under the legal theory of premises liability, customers have sued banks for failing to protect them from assault at ATM's. While in the past banks had no duty to provide security against such crimes, such a duty has been recognized in a number of cases in recent years. In such a case, a judge or jury would determine if there were past attacks, and if a likelihood of a crime was foreseeable. If so, they may hold that the bank had a duty to protect people using that machine, and find the bank liable.

Do building owners have to have safety precautions, such as sprinklers and posted escape routes, in case of fires?

Building owners and/or management are required to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries in case of fire, and should help people on their properties escape, and these safeguards would probably include having sprinklers and posted escape routes.

Who is liable if a person is injured while walking on a public sidewalk next to a construction site, after tripping over a brick from the site?

In some circumstances, the injured person will be able to recover damages from the construction company, which has a duty to take reasonable steps to keep public sidewalks near its construction site free from bricks and other debris. If the company fails to remove such obstructions and someone trips and falls, the company may be liable. Construction companies should also tell pedestrians they could get injured if they stray from the sidewalk. Posting a sign is usually not enough. If a company fails to place barriers and warning lamps by a building pit, for example, it may be responsible if anyone falls into it and gets injured.

What if someone gets injured while at the home of a neighbor, who invited him or her there for a party?

Social guests are sometimes able to recover from their hosts, depending on how their injuries happened. Homeowners must tell their guests about, or correct, any dangerous conditions that guests are unlikely to recognize. For example, if an injury was caused when a guest tripped on a throw rug, he or she may be able to recover if he/she could prove that the host knew other people had tripped over it and the guest was unlikely to realize its danger. The host probably should have warned guests about it, removed it during the party, or secured it to the floor with tape or tacks.

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