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Is Premises Liability Common Law?
No matter where you look – billboards, TV commercials, or on the radio, there is never a shortage of ads for personal injury lawyers in New York. When we imagine personal injury cases, the first thing that may come to mind is motor vehicle accidents or similar incidents that result in severe injuries including paralysis, a loss of limbs, or death.
In reality, the scope of personal injury claims is much larger, extending even to harm resulting from a hazard on someone else’s property. These claims are referred to as premises liability, which has largely been established by common law. Let’s discuss “common law” and take a closer look at premises liability cases and the series of laws that govern them.
A Background On Premises Liability
When you are visiting a public or private property, it is only natural to act on the assumption that the area will be clear of hazards, well maintained and cared for. At the same time, it may be true that there are some potential hazards that cannot be removed completely. In any case, keep an eye out for warning signs that should be visible so you can avoid the dangers and keep safe.
The responsibility of property owners and managers is called a “duty of care” – meaning that they owe it to you to keep the property safe. A premises liability claim or lawsuit can be made if a property owner’s negligence (or perhaps the business owner, property manager, or another party – depending on the circumstances of the case) caused injuries to a guest or visitor to the property.
The Difference Between Common Law and Statutory Law
Within the sphere of law, there are two fundamental parts: common law and statutory law. When thinking of the term “common law,” most likely the next word that comes to mind is “spouse.” In reality, though, common law refers to a set of laws that have come into existence through precedent – or previous rulings found in court that set the basis for future decisions.
With that definition in mind, the term “common law marriage” makes sense. It is not a marriage in an official sense (being without a marriage license) but is recognized as a marriage in the eyes of the courts for certain cases.
Statutory law, on the other hand, is a series of written laws passed by the legislature, otherwise known as legislation. These laws are well-established and pre-determined, rather than relying on a judge to set a legal precedent for future cases.
Premises Liability Cases Are Usually Common Law Cases
As a general rule, “tort law,” which includes cases such as negligence, defamation, and personal injuries, falls under the category of common law. Instead of being a series of official, written laws, judges have (over time) constructed a number of rules and principles that govern these cases to hold individuals accountable for their actions that caused harm to someone else.
Since premises liability cases generally fall under negligence, they are considered to be common law cases. However, there are some cases where the property owner has a statutory obligation to the victim.
For example, municipalities generally have a Housing Code in effect to protect tenants. These Housing Codes are legally binding laws, and they include the responsibility of landlords to provide a safe living environment. If a landlord fails to meet the minimum standards put in place and this results in an injury, he or she is liable under the common law principle of premises liability, as well as the statutory law set out under the Housing Code.
As seen, there are many nuances at play when dealing with common law cases. Lawyers who have experience with premises liability cases are well-versed in both common law and statutory law principles for the State of New York.
Take, for example, a common type of premises liability claim: slip-and-falls. These can happen for different reasons, on uneven walkways or defective steps. During the long winter months, snow and ice can pile up on sidewalks and walkways, increasing the danger of serious slips that can lead to injuries. People slip every day, but many do not seek medical attention for such embarrassing, seemingly minor mishaps.
According to the National Floor Safety Institute, falls alone account for over 8 million trips to the emergency room in the United States each year, which represents the leading cause of ER visits. Of course, there are countless other injuries that do not result in an immediate visit to the hospital but may still require medical attention. Many people feel fine and fail to visit a doctor after what seemed to be a minor fall but start to feel the effects in the days or weeks that follow.
Types of premises liability claims
While slip-and-falls may be the most common type of premises liability claims, personal injury lawyers see many different types of premises liability cases, including:
- Elevator accidents
- Dog bites
- Falling hazards
- Defective signs
How common law may apply
Of course, not all situations where someone is injured on public or private property are eligible for a premises liability claim. Since common law varies from state to state, the requirements to establish a case may vary by location.
Common law principles require two factors to be true in order to successfully file a premises liability claim or lawsuit in New York:
- A condition or hazard on the property caused an injury
- The dangerous condition was foreseeable
- The liable party either caused the hazard, knew about it and did not fix it, or failed to provide appropriate warnings to avoid the hazard
When working on a premises liability case, personal injury lawyers build and analyze evidence to prove these claims and hold the right parties liable after an accident.
When to File a Premises Liability Claim
Filing a premises liability claim with an insurance company or filing a lawsuit for damages is not often the first thought after suffering an injury on someone else’s property. The problem is, though, that the injuries suffered can cause a serious financial burden for the victim and impact his or her quality of life.
In order to receive fair compensation for the physical and emotional damages caused by the accident, you should examine your legal options. A lawyer can determine whether your accident was the result of someone else’s negligence and what to do next.
Many injury victims are not fully aware of the laws in New York surrounding premises liability, including who can be found liable, how it must be proven, and how much time the law allows for a case to be filed. It can help to have a “lawyer in the family,” as Hill & Moin has been described. A free, no-obligation consultation with our firm could be just what you need to understand your legal rights after an accident.