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I was injured on my neighbor's property. What are my rights?

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Q:

I was injured on my neighbor's property. What are my rights?

A:

Under premise liability laws, property owners have the legal responsibility to take reasonable efforts to ensure that their property, including their home, is safe. Owners who do not meet their legal duty may be held liable for loss or damages if someone is injured on their property.

What are my rights?

Before determining whether you have rights for compensation if you are injured on your neighbor’s property, you must first establish the duty of care owed to you by the homeowner. Their duty, however, can be dependent on your status or, more specifically, the circumstances in which you entered their home or property.

Who am I?

Under premise liability law, the injured party is generally considered one of the following: a licensee, an invitee or a trespasser.

  • Licensee: A licensee can include any party who entered the premises with the owner’s permission for their own benefit or pleasure (i.e. a dinner guest).
  • Invitee: An invitee can include any party who entered the premises with the owner’s knowledge and for the benefit of both the invitee and the homeowner (i.e. plumber, roofer, etc.).
  • Trespasser: Any person or persons who entered the homeowner’s property without the owner’s permission or legal right to do so (i.e. burglar).

Duty of Care for an Injured Person

Homeowners have the highest level of duty or level of care towards invitees. Under this standard of care, the homeowner must take “reasonable steps” to inspect, repair and correct all known dangers on their property and ensure that invitees are safe from danger.

In a store, for example, this may include regularly inspecting and repairing damaged property, installing lights on the perimeter of the store and parking lot, having a set schedule to ensure that there are no hazards (such as spills), and hiring security staff.

Homeowners also have a duty of care to licensees, as well as invitees, but the standard is a bit lower.

For example, if you were an invitee and you were injured in another person’s house, you will have to prove that the homeowner failed in their legal duty to avoid committing “willful or wanton injury,” or failed to warn you about dangers that were known or that could have been reasonably predicted.

When can a trespasser seek compensation?

Another question, which has been debated about for years in courts, is whether or not a homeowner owes a duty of care to a trespasser. A trespasser, which can include any person or persons who decide to enter the property or residence without permission, is owed a duty of care. The duty, however, is minimal (exceptions exist in some states with regard to children).

Under most state laws, a homeowner’s duty includes not creating any situations that may willfully injure the trespasser, or performing any actions that are wantonly or grossly negligent.

Additionally, in some cases, the homeowner, if aware of potential danger, may have the legal obligation to warn the trespasser of potentially dangerous conditions.

Winning a Premise Liability Case

If you have been injured at your neighbor’s house, you may—under specific conditions—be able to file an injury claim and receive compensation for your injuries.

To win your case, you must prove certain elements of your premise liability claim:

  • Prove that the owner owed you a duty of care
  • Prove that the owner failed to perform the duty owed
  • Prove that you have suffered injury due to the breach of duty
  • Prove you have suffered actual loss (i.e. medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.)

For example, if the court determines that you were an invitee and you were injured, you could provide evidence that the property owner failed to take reasonable steps to repair a hazardous condition and this breach of duty caused you injury or loss.

How much can I win for my premise liability claim?

Assuming that you have a valid premise liability claim, most injured parties will negotiate a settlement with the homeowner’s insurance company. Small injuries, which have not caused permanent injury or substantial loss, generally can be negotiated without legal help.

If you have suffered a severe or permanent injury, or you expect that you will miss a substantial amount of time from work, or if you do not think that the insurance company is negotiating in good faith, you should contact an injury lawyer for more information about your options.

Compensation for a premise injury lawsuit can include payment for pain and suffering, compensation for lost wages, and payment for medical care related to the injury.

What if I am partially to blame for my own injuries?

If you are partially responsible for your own injuries, state laws will determine how compensation is paid. For example, some states eliminate the right to compensation if a plaintiff is responsible at all for their own injuries. Other states allow a plaintiff to receive compensation if they are less than 50% or 51% at fault, while the remaining states simply determine the percentage of fault of each party and divide the compensation accordingly.

***
Note: Premise liability claims are only won if you can prove each element of your case, including injury or loss. If you have not been injured, you do not have a case. For example, simply falling down in a store such as Walmart, without injury or loss, will not be sufficient enough to receive compensation.

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