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Quarter 4, 2023: Premises Liability: Keeping Your Patrons and Company Safe During the Winter

Q4 - 2023 - The Winters & King Review

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Premises Liability: Keeping Your Patrons and Company Safe During the Winter
By: Shareholder Spencer C. Pittman


Winter has arrived, which means ice, snow, and slippery surfaces. Premises owner/occupants can be liable for people who trip, slip, or fall if certain corrective action is not reasonably taken. What action(s) should be taken, and what are your obligations to correct dangers and defects?

Premises liability holds owners/occupiers of property legally responsible for injuries that occur on premises due to unsafe conditions. Owners/occupants have a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition to prevent harm to those who enter the property. Premises liability cases typically arise from accidents such as slips and falls, dangerous conditions on the property, or in some circumstances, inadequate security. A principal question in premises liability is whether the owner/occupant owes a “duty of care” to individuals who enter their premises. A breach of this duty of care can give rise to civil liability for the resulting damages.

Who owes a duty and to whom? People entering premises can be classified as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. Invitees enter premises for the benefit of the owner/occupant, such as entering a store to buy goods or for food at a restaurant. Licensees enter premises with permission but not for the owner/occupant’s benefit, such as social guests or a spouse at a company Christmas party. Trespassers enter premises without permission.

Different duties of care are owed to each of these classifications, and you should understand what duty you owe to your patrons/guests so you can take appropriate preventative action. Invitees are owed the highest duty of care. An owner/occupant must use reasonable care to keep and maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition for invitees, which includes reasonably inspecting and correcting known and unknown dangers. The owner/occupant of premises must protect licensees only from known dangers/hazards on the premises (i.e., there is no duty to search out and correct existing dangers/hazards). With limited exceptions, no duty of care is owed to trespassers. One such exception is that an owner/occupant must reasonably protect against “attractive nuisances,” which are things that may draw attention to trespassing children. Examples include an unfenced pool, machinery, or an open fire pit.

To minimize liability, you should address potential hazards promptly and provide adequate warnings, such as “caution” signs. For invitees, you can manage risks by establishing protocol for routine inspections for dangers in need of correction, especially in high-traffic areas. Also, check with your insurance carrier agent/broker to ensure your business’s general liability insurance coverage will cover premises liability to mitigate potential financial liabilities associated with premises liability claims.

Jurisdictions may have their own specific laws and standards regarding premises liability. If you have questions or concerns about premises liabilities or are subject to a premises liability claim, contact Shareholder Spencer Pittman at [email protected].

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