Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Businesses and other property owners owe a duty to those whom they invite onto their premises to keep and maintain a safe property. The level of care owed to a visitor depends in part on the relationship between the landowner and the guest. For example, a customer of a business is owed a more substantial duty than an unknown trespasser.

This duty is in place irrespective of the type of property, meaning that private property owners owe a duty, just as does the government, and so do non-profit organizations. In a recent case in front of a California appellate court, the court had an opportunity to discuss how far liability can extend in premises liability cases alleging that the landowner was negligent in the placement of a parking lot.

Vasilenko v. Grace Family Church:  The Facts

Grace Family Church was located on a busy five-lane highway. Since the church’s parking lot would often fill up, the church arranged to use another parking lot across the highway when the primary lot filled. While parking attendants were present in both lots to direct traffic, there was no one available to assist churchgoers in crossing the busy five-lane highway to get back to the church from the parking lot.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit brought by a man who was permanently paralyzed after he dove into a state-owned pond, breaking his neck. In the case, Roy v. State, the court ultimately dismissed the plaintiff’s claim against the government, based on the state’s recreational use statute.

Recreational Use Statutes in General

A recreational use statute is a legislatively enacted law that acts to prevent injured accident victims from holding certain property owners financially responsible. Specifically, the recreational use statute grants immunity to those who open their land for the general enjoyment of the public. In order for the doctrine to apply, the landowner must not be receiving a fee from the people using the land.

In Virginia, the recreational use statute requires qualifying property owners to remain free of liability for any dangerous condition on their land unless the owner acts with “gross negligence” or a “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition.”

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A West Virginia court recently released an opinion in which it reversed a jury verdict that had awarded the plaintiff nearly $70,000 in medical expenses and lost wages for injuries he suffered because of the alleged negligence of the defendant. Since the high court reversed the lower court’s decision not to award a directed verdict to the defendant in the case, the plaintiff will ultimately not be compensated for the alleged negligence of the defendant.

The Plaintiff Is Injured Falling Down a Hill after Leaning on an Unsafe Fence Post

The plaintiff in Wheeling Park Commission v. Dattoli filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendant for injuries sustained after he fell down a steep hill when he leaned on a broken fence at a park that was being operated by the defendant. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant had a duty to keep the fence in reasonable condition to prevent such accidents from occurring.

At trial, the plaintiff called the park operations director as a witness to testify that the fence failed as a result of the wood decaying, and the witness could not show any maintenance or repairs to the fence prior to the accident. After the trial, the jury awarded a verdict to the the plaintiff to compensate him for the medical expenses that he incurred treating his injuries, as well as for lost wages based on his recovery.

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Earlier this month, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that highlights the importance of one of the key elements in almost every personal injury case. In the case, Pittman v. Rivera, the plaintiff was injured when he was struck by a car driven by a man who was very recently kicked out of the defendant’s bar. The court ultimately ruled in favor of the defendant, finding that it was not reasonably foreseeable that the at-fault driver would go on to cause an accident after being denied re-admittance to the establishment.

Pittman v. Rivera:  The Facts

Rivera was kicked out of the defendant’s bar after he became aggressive with his girlfriend, an employee of the establishment. After Rivera was escorted out, a friend acted as a designated driver and took Rivera home. However, a few hours later, Rivera returned and tried to get back into the bar to speak with his girlfriend. The bar’s bouncer did not let Rivera in. Rivera then angrily got into his car, revved his engine loudly, and began driving around the bar’s parking lot in a reckless manner.

Pittman was also in the defendant’s bar that evening. At some point in the evening, Pittman stepped outside to speak with a few friends. As he stood in the bar’s parking lot, Rivera came whizzing around after making a series of U-turns and struck Pittman. As a result of the collision, Pittman suffered serious injuries and filed this lawsuit against the bar.

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