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Making the Case: How a Premises Liability Claim Works

  • By: Starr Law Offices
  • Published: September 12, 2016
Premises Liability Who is Responsible

Photo Disclaimer: Models depicted are not employees or members of the law firm. Photos are dramatizations and not actual events; these are actors, not clients or professionals.

Countless individuals are injured on other people’s properties every day. Some of these incidents are minor; some are catastrophic. When the responsibility for an injury relies with the property owner—the services of a reputable and skilled personal injury attorney will be needed. (Many law firms, such as Starr Law Offices, handle premises liability cases on a contingency basis. That means the lawyers charge no fee unless they secure compensation for their clients.)

When an injury occurs, the responsibility and negligence of another entity—usually the property owner—will determine the factors of the case. However, the injured party’s status will make a difference in how the court evaluates a premises liability claim. Were you an invited guest, a customer, an employee … or even trespassing? (Children may—and usually, do—receive special consideration in our legal system.) The reason for your presence on the premises will set the parameters for the care and due diligence expected of your host or the property owner. After consulting with you and reviewing the facts of the case, your lawyer will take the lead on your behalf, preparing your case and guiding you through the legal process.

Proving Fault

If you were injured on someone else’s property, it’s necessary to prove fault on the part of the property owner (or another responsible party like a General Manager) by showing any of the following is true:

  • The property owner or his/her employee created the hazardous condition
  • The property owner or his/her employee knew about the hazard and did nothing to fix it
  • The property owner or his/her employee should have anticipated the hazard and failed to take “reasonable” care in preventing an accident from occurring

This is where witness accounts, photographs and video, history and other documentation will play a vital role in supporting your claim. You may also want to look at store, restaurant, hotel, or facility policies that are relevant to your situation to see where failures occurred.

Filing a Claim

Once you’ve made a decision to seek damages from the at-fault party for your injury, the legal process begins: Your legal team will file the claim with the appropriate court. This paperwork includes:

  • Complaint/Petition – Identifies the parties, presents the facts of the case from the plaintiff’s perspective, sets out the legal basis for a claim against the defendant, and suggests a remedy.
  • Summons/Service – Informs the defendant about the lawsuit, identifies the court and place and time of court proceedings and sets forth the penalties for failing to appear.
  • Defendant’s Answer – Allows the defendant to respond to each point in the complaint by admitting, denying or claiming lack of knowledge to a charge; defendants may also offer various “affirmative defenses” as to why they are not liable for damages.

Fact Finding and Discovery

Not to be confused with the investigation and collection of documents that takes place in preparation of the case, this formal legal process involves depositions with sworn statements for the court. This is also where opponents in a premises liability case share information with one another to help establish facts that the court may consider.

Offer of a Settlement

In a case such as the ones we’ve outlined, it wouldn’t be surprising if the defendant’s representatives reached out to you with a settlement offer almost immediately. If not, your attorney may contact the premises owner (or his/her representatives) suggesting a settlement. After considering short-term and long-term concerns stemming from the incident, your attorney will help you realistically make and weigh offers and counter-offers. A negotiated premises liability settlement is not uncommon, and the relatively rapid resolution of these cases often proves advantageous to everyone involved.

Going to Trial

For the most part, a trial in a premises liability case is like any other. However, in civil lawsuits, a case is decided by a preponderance of the evidence (e.g. more likely than not) as opposed to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required for a criminal conviction. There will be a judge presiding who may also decide the case if there is no jury to do so. As with any other trials, there will be opening statements, witness testimony, presentation of evidence, and closing arguments. After some deliberation, the judge or jury will deliver a verdict. If the plaintiff’s case prevails, the court will also decide appropriate compensation for his or her injuries.

Ultimately, the outcome of a premises liability case will depend on facts, how well they were documented, and the skill with which they were presented. In virtually any personal injury litigation, thorough preparation will only be possible with the assistance of qualified legal counsel. Starr Law Offices is ready and able to offer our experience and knowledge to the victims in premises liability cases. We have more than thirty years’ experience assisting victims find a fair resolution for their pain and suffering and there’s never any costs or fees unless there is a recovery.

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