We assume we’ll be safe when we enter a store, cross the street, visit a neighbor’s home, or take a walk in the park. Unfortunately, that assumption can be dangerous, as any location can prove hazardous in a moment’s notice. Unsafe premises can cause serious injuries, permanent disability, or even death. If you’ve been injured on another person’s property, a Charleston premises liability lawyer can help.
Property owners in Charleston and all over the state have a legal responsibility to keep their properties safe for visitors. This includes homeowners, business owners, construction zone owners, and the cities and counties that own public areas like parks. These responsibilities include landscaping, maintaining safe walkways and stairways, and ensuring that proper lighting and safety features like slip-resistant surfaces and handrails are in place. Roofs, walls, gutters, drains, doorways, etc. must also be properly maintained.
If these responsibilities are not met and a visitor is injured on that property, the owner may be held liable for the injuries that were sustained. This is an area of law called premises liability law. By filing a premises liability lawsuit against the property owner, your family may be able to obtain compensation, often referred to as damages, that can go towards the expenses related to your accident and the accompanying injuries.
Dangers of Unsafe Properties
West Virginia’s emergency rooms are flooded daily with individuals harmed in accidents that occur due to property owners who are careless or negligent and fail to properly maintain their properties. Slip and fall injuries alone cause nearly nine million people a year to seek medical attention. There are many ways premises liability accidents occur.
Slip and fall accidents occur when someone slips, trips, or stumbles, resulting in a serious fall injury. These accidents frequently occur due to unmaintained walkways or stairways, poor lighting conditions, spills that are not cleaned up, or ice, water, or snow that is not properly removed.
Injuries in the workplace are also common when hazardous conditions are not taken care of. Industrial accidents, which are common in coal mining and natural gas industries, can seriously impact an individual’s ability to work gainfully. Construction workers are also at risk because of falling equipment and debris.
Homeowners may unintentionally create dangerous conditions if their swimming pool has non-slip-resistant edges, if their walkways are poorly maintained or lit, or if they neglect to fix hazards like broken steps or torn carpet. A property owner can also be liable for premises hazards if their dog attacks someone. Dog bites can result in serious injuries and infections.
How the Court Defines Property Visitors
The duty of care you are owed may change depending on the category of visitor you fall into. Determining your visitor status can impact how your claim is viewed and the compensation you are eligible for. In general, there are three different types of visitors.
An invitee is someone who has been invited onto the premises by the homeowner. The invitation can be offered directly or implied. A direct invitation may come in the form of a job interview. An implied invitation, for example, exists when a store opens their doors and allows customers inside. It is expected, in situations like this, that the property owner maintains their space so that invitees are not harmed while present.
The second category of visitor is licensee. These individuals are asked to properties for reasons unrelated to business or commercial enterprises. They must have consent to be on the property. Someone who is invited to a home for dinner is a licensee. The owner of the property has an obligation to inform licensees of any potential risks or dangers on the property. If, for example, the licensee is not told about a loose step and they fall, the owner can be held liable.
A trespasser, the final visitor status, is someone who has not been given permission to be on a property. In most cases, the property owner will not be held liable if the trespasser is injured on the property because the owner was not aware of the visitor and was not able to prepare their property or issue a warning. It’s important to remember that, in general, children are always owed a duty of care when on a property – even if they are trespassing.
Premises Liability Lawsuits Can Be Complicated
Premises liability claims can be simple or very complex, depending on the nature of the accident as well as the circumstances behind it. Your Charleston premises liability attorney will need to prove that your injuries occurred due to the property owner’s negligence or carelessness and that the property owner knew about the hazard or should have and did nothing to fix it or place adequate warnings regarding the hazard.
Property Owner Obligations
A property owner is given a reasonable amount of time to fix broken infrastructures, remove dangerous debris, or clean up spills. It’s unreasonable to expect a property owner to fix severe issues immediately. During the time it takes them to make the repairs or perform maintenance, however, they must properly warn visitors about the hazard. This warning can take the form of warning signs, tape, or otherwise preventing entry.
The court will have to determine what is defined as a “reasonable amount of time” regarding your specific case. They will also determine if the property owner should have known about the hazard. Property owners are expected to regularly inspect their properties and ensure everything is in working order. If this expectation was not met, they can potentially be held liable even if they claim they didn’t know about the hazard.
In some cases, liability can be placed on another party. Under some conditions, for example, it’s possible for a building’s subcontractor, builder, or architect to be held liable for injuries that occur. The hazard may be able to be explained by a construction error or defect in a manufactured item.
“Open and Obvious” Doctrine
While property owners have certain obligations to visitors, they are not always responsible when injuries are sustained. West Virginia employees what is referred to as the open and obvious doctrine, which states that the owner of a property is not liable when a visitor comes into contact with an open, obvious, and reasonably apparent danger. This is because the appearance of the hazard is obvious, and a reasonable person would proceed at their own risk.
If a person is injured under circumstances that match the open and obvious doctrine, the injured party cannot recover damages, no matter how much or little they may have been at fault for the incident. As such, owners and occupiers are only liable when a hazard is not apparent.
Injuries on Government Property
Your premises liability claim may become even more complex in the event you are injured on government property. Often times, government property owners are protected from lawsuits with sovereign immunity. This means that federal, state, or local governments cannot be held accountable for injuries that occur on government-owned properties.
Fortunately, and as a result of the Federal Tort Claims Act, injured parties can bring lawsuits against government bodies for accidents that happen on public properties. These cases can be more difficult to prove, which is why you’ll benefit from a strong legal team.
Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitations establish how long an injured party has to take legal action against the party they believe to be responsible. It’s imperative to abide by this limit, as missing it will result in a case that is dismissed without review. Victims seeking compensation will not be able to recover for any of the damages they’ve incurred.
In West Virginia, individuals have two years to file a claim or lawsuit against the party or entity that caused their accident. This statute goes for property damage, as well. The two-year time starts on the date of the accident; however, there are rare situations where more time is available. Your lawyer will be able to determine how best to proceed based on your individual case.
Determining Compensation for Premises Liability Injuries
If you and your Charleston attorney are preparing a premises liability claim for injuries you suffered, you’ll need to be ready to hear the other side claim that you bear some amount of the fault for the accident. Often times, their argument may claim you were on a part of the property where you were not allowed or not expected to be, you were using your phone or not paying attention when the accident happened, there was adequate signage notifying you of the danger, or the danger should have been obvious.
West Virginia abides by a comparative negligence rule, which determines the amount of compensation you are eligible for. Under this rule, any damages you receive can be reduced according to the percentage of your fault. If, for example, it is determined that you are 20 percent at fault for the accident, you will only be eligible for 80 of the compensation. It’s important to note that if someone is deemed more than 50 percent at fault, they will be ineligible for any amount of compensation.
After fault is determined, compensation can be awarded. You may be eligible for compensation that can cover your accident-related medical bills and expenses, lost wages, the cost of future care, pain and suffering, and more.
Get Help from an Experienced Law Firm Today
Filing a premises liability claim in Charleston can give you and your family peace of mind as well as compensation that can aid the recovery process. In addition, lawsuits send a message that property owners all over the nation cannot ignore. Owning property is a responsibility that must be taken seriously.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an unsafe location, our law firm is experienced and prepared to assist you in your premises liability case. Contact DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC today to get started with our zealous and sympathetic team.
Our skilled Charleston premises liability attorneys have more than 150 years of combined experience as advocates for those harmed by needlessly precarious locations. We offer a free initial case evaluation for all our new clients. Get in touch today to learn about the options available to you.