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Whose fault is it? What you should know about premises liability

Imagine strolling into your favorite clothing store to do some light shopping. As you walk down the main aisle, you stumble and fall and hit your head on a display case on the way down. You then spend the next 24 hours under observation in the hospital due to the concussion you suffered.

Now you are wondering how much you will have to pay in medical expenses and how you will recover lost wages due to missed work time. It's important for you to know that you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

When you enter someone else's property, whether public or private, you should expect a certain level of safety. For example, if the floor of your local supermarket is wet, you would expect to see signs alerting you and other customers to the danger. When a property owner or occupant invites others onto the property, the owner or occupant assumes a certain amount of premises liability. Read further to find out more about determining fault in a premises liability case.

Visitor status

When you enter someone else's property, one of four statuses typically applies to you. You are either an invitee, a social guest, a licensee or a trespasser. When you enter a shop, such as your favorite clothing store or a supermarket, you are an invitee. The store has "invited" you and other customers onto the property.

When you enter property to conduct business -- maybe as a contractor or service provider or for some other personal purpose -- you are generally considered a licensee or social guest.

If you enter property without any right to do so, you are a trespasser. In cases of trespassing and licensees, the property owner or occupant has not made any indication, implied or explicit, that the property is safe.

Standard of reasonableness

In general, a property owner has to take steps to ensure that the premises is reasonably free from hazards. This means that if you tripped on loose carpeting or slipped on wet tiles and fell in the clothing shop, the owner or occupant failed to provide a safe environment for shoppers. This is especially true if there was no effort to alert customers of the danger.

However, there is also an expectation that you will not do anything that increases your risk of an accident. For example, if you decided it would be a good idea to stand on top of a glass display case and it then breaks and you suffer injuries, the court may decide you are mostly at fault.

Comparative fault

In some instances, both the injured party and the property owner share the fault for an accident. In cases like this, the court may choose to follow the principals of comparative negligence and reduce the amount of your claim by the percentage you contributed to your accident.

If you have been injured on someone else's premises, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and lost wages. However, the particular circumstances may determine how much the court believes you are entitled to receive.

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