When can a property owner be held liable for injuries?

On Behalf of | May 17, 2023 | Premises Liability

If someone is injured on another person’s property due to a hazardous condition, the property owner (and many non-owner tenants) could be liable for the victim’s losses as a result of something called “premises liability” law.

However, the strength of someone’s claim will depend on several factors, and the legal status or classification of the visitor can have a big effect because that determines the kind of duty of care that a property owner owes them.


This is someone who enters another person’s property without permission. This could be someone taking a shortcut through a neighbor’s backyard, a burglar or even a transient. Property owners are generally only liable for their injuries when they act willfully or with gross negligence. For example, a business owner who is frustrated by a break-in at their shop generally can’t just set up some kind of “booby trap” designed to injure the next person who breaks in, but they wouldn’t be liable if the trespasser simply trips over a pile of debris in the dark and gets hurt.


This is someone who has consent to enter the property and is there for some purpose of their own. A licensee could be, for example, a salesperson trying to make door-to-door sales. Property holders generally only owe these visitors a duty to warn them of any dangerous conditions that the property holder already knows are there, like a broken step near the door.


These are people who are there not only with permission but also for the mutual benefit of both the property holder and themselves. Invitees might include patrons in a store or a delivery person. They are owed the highest duty of care, so the property holder can be held responsible for injuries caused by both known dangers and dangers that could have been known through a reasonable inspection. For example, a shopkeeper may not realize that soda pooled on the floor and created a slip-and-fall hazard, but they may still be liable for someone’s fall if the spill could have been discovered in time to clean it up before the fall happened.


There are special rules surrounding children under the age of 16. Property owners are responsible for a child’s injuries if they know that something on their property is likely to attract children and they don’t take reasonable steps to eliminate the danger. For example, a homeowner with a pool could be liable if they don’t lock their gate or take steps to keep the neighborhood kids out.

Property liability claims can be complex. If you believe that you may have a claim for injuries, it’s always best to explore the possibility by seeking thoughtful and experienced legal guidance.