We’ve all done it: slipped and fallen in an icy grocery store parking lot or tripped over a broken step at a friend’s house. Usually we dust ourselves off, chalk it up to a moment of clumsiness, and move on. But what if you’re injured on someone else’s property and you wind up with exorbitant hospital bills? And what if it wasn’t your fault, but the fault of the property owner?
Every property owner in New Jersey, whether of a private residence or of a business, is required to do everything they can (within reason) to keep their visitors safe. If they fail to do this, they are liable for compensating the victim for their injuries. Premises liability cases can sometimes be complicated, but I’ll explain how they work and when a Passaic County premises liability lawyer can help.
What is Premises Liability?
Let’s say you injure yourself on someone’s property. If your injuries are due to a hazard you were not properly warned about or protected from, the property owner could be considered negligent. This means you may be able to file a premises liability lawsuit.
The key word here is negligence, and proving it can be a challenge. To win in court, you would need to prove that the property owner failed to take reasonable action to protect your safety.
Under New Jersey law, a property owner must:
- Keep their property maintained and in good condition
- Repair any dangerous conditions in a reasonable amount of time
- Warn visitors of any conditions that could be hazardous
The property owner may also be expected to regularly inspect their property to ensure that it is safe. As the plaintiff in a premises liability claim, you have to prove that the defendant owed you what is called a “duty of care” (in other words, a responsibility to keep you safe) and that they breached that duty. In addition, you would have to prove that the specific hazard or condition directly resulted in your injuries.
As an example, if you slipped on a wet floor at the grocery store where a spill happened. If a caution sign was posted, you would be less likely to win a lawsuit. If, however, there was no caution sign posted, you may be able to sue. For example, if the unexpected spill happened seconds before and hadn’t been cleaned up yet, the question that would come up in court would be whether or not the property owner acted quickly enough to protect your safety. In this case, since the spill just happened and the property owner was not yet aware of it, you might not be eligible for compensation. If, on the other hand, the spill happened an hour before and no one cleaned it up or put up a caution sign, this could be considered negligence and you might have a case.
A third complicating factor comes into play if you were partially responsible for the slip. Let’s say that in the same scenario, you were talking on your cell phone and failed to notice an obvious spill. In this case, it’s possible that the property owner would not be considered liable, or that you could be considered at least partially liable since you were distracted. In this case, the amount you could recover would be reduced by the percentage to which the court considers you responsible for your injuries.
As you can see, these cases can be incredibly complicated, so it’s usually in your best interest to work with a premises liability lawyer in Passaic county.
Common Examples of Premises Liability Accidents
The types of potential premises liability accidents is probably endless, but here are some of the types of accidents that I see most often in my practice:
- Slips and falls at businesses (especially retail stores and restaurants)
- Injuries sustained during an assault on public or private property
- Fires or explosions
- Construction site accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Injuries from falling objects
- Being hit by a car while walking or riding your bike on public or private property
- Dog bite injuries
- Poisoning from lead paint or other substances
- Being struck by a car in a parking lot where conditions were poor
- Injuries from exposed electrical equipment
- Injuries resulting from insufficient lighting
- Amusement park accidents
- Swimming pool injuries or drownings
Premises Liability and COVID-19
In the face of COVID-19, premises liability cases could become more common, but also more complicated. If you are infected with COVID-19 at a business where proper safety precautions are not being taken, the property owner could be considered negligent. This could become even more of an issue now that some businesses are beginning to reopen and more people will likely be visiting them, which means a higher risk.
One thing courts will have to decide is whether, if the public receives a general update about COVID-19 safety from the CDC, the federal government, or their state, the consumer will be held responsible for their own safety, or if the business owner could be liable. It’s possible that businesses will be required to stay up to date on changing safety protocols, warn customers about them, and take precautions to keep patrons safe.
Requirements that patrons wear masks and follow physical distancing guidelines could be enforced as businesses try to protect themselves. Likewise, businesses could be required to ensure that distancing is enforced, make sanitizing products available, have employees wear masks, frequently clean the premises, and allow vulnerable populations to shop at less busy times. The courts have not yet decided many of these issues, so we will have to wait and see.
What Kinds of Compensation Can I Receive?
In a premises liability lawsuit, medical expenses for current and future care, pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages and benefits, and even reduced earning capacity due to your injuries can all potentially be pursued.
In New Jersey, you have two years from the date you were injured to file a lawsuit against the person responsible. The best thing you can do after an injury on someone else’s premises is contact a Passaic County premises liability attorney right away.
At Bavagnoli & Bavagnoli, we will work with you personally to help you understand your rights and ensure that they are upheld. We pride ourselves on working with each person on a one-on-one basis, being available to speak with you personally about questions you have, and fighting to get you the compensation you need to recover from your injuries. As I mentioned, premises liability cases can be complicated, so it is best to consult with a lawyer.
Our consultations are always free. If you need help, contact our offices today at (973) 785-9522 or fill out our contact form.