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Understanding "Duty of Care"


If someone is hurt on another person's or company's property, can the injured party really hold the property owner responsible for the accident? This is the basic question at the heart of all premises liability claims (more commonly referred to as "slip and fall" claims). When determining if a property owner can actually be held legally responsible for injury on their premises, something called "duty of care" must first be determined.

"Duty of care" is basically the responsibility property owners have to provide a safe environment to welcome visitors—or to properly warn visitors of any possible hazards. Simple examples of this are placing "caution wet floor" cones on damp tiling or a "beware of dog" sign up on a fence for visitors to see. It's easy to see how when these kinds of responsibilities are not met, visitors can easily be exposed to conditions that could seriously hurt them.

Proving Duty of Care

In a premises liability claim, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, the injured party. While there are many different circumstances on a property that can be addressed in a premises liability claim, the same basic facts need to be presented to the court to pursue compensation from the property owner.

In a premises liability claim, the plaintiff must prove that:

  • They were owed duty of care
  • The property owner failed to provide that duty of care
  • The failure directly contributed to the injury

Keep in mind that the failure to provide duty of care must demonstrate that the property owner had reasonable time to address the dangerous conditions. If, for example, a supermarket shopper dropped a jar of pickles and then immediately slipped on the spill and injured themselves, it would be difficult to hold the supermarket responsible because staff would not have had the opportunity to clean the spill before the fall occurred.

What "type" of visitor are you?

Being owed duty of care is determined by establishing what kind of visitor you were to the property. In these cases, there are basically four different types of visitors: invitees, licensees, trespassers, and children.

Generally speaking, a visitor's claim to compensation is strong if they are classified as an invitee or licensee: these are considered "welcome" visitors to a property and include social guests, customers, patrons, and others expected to enter a commercial property to spend money.

If, however, you are considered to be a trespasser, it is likely you have no claim to compensation from a property owner: you are entering a property illegally, without the owner's knowledge, and are owned no duty of care. Children can be owed duty of care, but only on a circumstantial basis. Some may be unwittingly attracted to dangerous conditions and family members can hold property owners liable for injuries if the owner did not properly prepare for that possibility. If your child has been hurt by dangerous conditions on a property, seek legal representation to discuss the viability of your claim.

Those who have been hurt due to the carelessness of a property owners deserve to have their pain and suffering answered for. At Pierce, Sloan, Kennedy & Early LLC (Pierce | Sloan), our experienced and industry-recognized Charleston personal injury attorneys have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of accident victims who have been wrongfully hurt by others. If you or a loved one has a claim in a premises liability matter, our team is ready to hear from you.

Contact us today to request a free case evaluation.

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