Many people believe that if you are injured on somebody else’s property, then you automatically have a personal injury claim against the property owner. This belief is legally inaccurate in every state, including Missouri. Instead, you only have a claim against the property owner if your injury was caused by an unsafe condition on the property.
If you fell simply because you were not paying attention, then you have no legal recourse against the property owner. If, however, you fell because the stairs were out of code, a slick substance was on the floor, or because of a sudden change in floor elevation, then you may have claim.
Your chances of successfully recovering an amount for your injuries also depends on the reason you were on the property. If you were injured by a dangerous condition at a store (i.e. Wal-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot, Aldi, etc.), then your chances of recovery are greater than if you were injured by a dangerous condition at your neighbor’s house. This is because the law holds stores who open their doors to the general public to a higher standard than a private property owner.
Claims Against Stores
In order to recover against a store, your lawyer would have to prove the following elements:
- A dangerous condition existed on the store property.
- The store either knew or should have known of the dangerous condition.
- The store chose to not fix or warn of the dangerous condition.
- The dangerous condition injured you, the customer of the store.
Claims Against Private Property Owners
In order to recover against a non-business private property owner, your lawyer would have to prove the following, different elements:
- A dangerous condition existed on the property.
- The owner of the property actually knew of the dangerous condition.
- The owner of the property chose not to fix or warn of the dangerous condition.
- The dangerous condition injured you, a guest on the property.
Did you notice the difference? In a claim against a private property owner, your lawyer is required to prove the property owner actually knew of the dangerous condition. In a claim against a store, however, your lawyer only has to prove that the store either knew or should have known of the danger.
There is a world of difference between the two standards. The following real cases I handled in Missouri illustrate the difference quite well. The first case involves a slip and fall injury in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. The injured person, my client, broke his leg when he fell on black ice in the parking lot. He was walking to the store from an adjacent property where he worked, and the moment he crossed onto the restaurant’s property he fell on invisible black ice.
My investigation revealed that snow had fallen a couple of days before my client fell. The restaurant paid to have the snow removed from the parking lot, but tried to save money by not paying the snow removal company to put down rock salt. The small amount of remaining snow melted in the daytime sun, but refroze the night before my client’s fall, which occurred early in the morning.
Because the black ice which my client fell on was invisible (and on the edge of the parking lot away from where customers park), I might have had a difficult time proving the store actually knew the black ice was there. Thankfully, I did not have to. Instead, all I had to prove was that the store would have known it was there had they been acting carefully. This was easily proven by the fact that there was black ice that had refrozen near the entrance of the restaurant, and, according to the employees, the district manager had brought by a 5 pound bag of rock salt and instructed the employees to spread it only on the handicap spots and front entrance. This action by the district manager clearly demonstrated that the restaurant was aware of refreezing black ice on the property, but consciously decided to only treat the handicap parking spots and front entrance. Had they done the right thing and decided to treat the entire parking lot, they would have discovered the black ice where my client fell and would have been able to apply rock salt to prevent the danger which caused my client’s injury. The case settled for six figures without even filing a lawsuit.
The second case involves a client of mine who broke her ankle when she fell on the deck stairs at a house she was visiting in Joplin, Missouri. The stairs violated city code because the height of each individual step varied from the previous step, making the stairs very dangerous to traverse. In this case, I actually had to prove the homeowner knew that the stairs violated city code. Luckily, I was able to get him to admit that he built the deck stairs himself (which explains the code violation), so I was able to prove he knew they were uneven and unsafe. Had a contractor built the stairs, my poor client may not have been able to recover anything.
Please see our Practice Areas page for more information about premises liability claims, or call us today for a free consultation at (417) 385-1338.