Most people who own a car have car insurance, and they usually contact their insurance carrier if they’re hurt in a car accident (even though the other driver could be liable).
But if you’re hurt in another kind of accident, you might not immediately think about what kind of insurance could cover your medical bills, lost income, permanent disability, or other damages.
If you experience a slip-and-fall or are otherwise injured on another party’s property, you might assume you have to pay the bills yourself. While this is a typical thought process, it’s sometimes incorrect – and it could cost you thousands of dollars or more.
What Is Premises Liability, and Do You Need a Breckenridge Premises Liability Attorney?
Premises liability refers to a property owner’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for visitors, also known as a duty of care.
This duty of care varies based on the situation, but in most cases, it means that the owner should take reasonable steps to correct hazards that might injure guests or at least warn people to stay away from them or act with caution. Some examples of reasonable care include:
- Cleaning up spilled drinks, puddles from leaky roofs, and any debris on the floor or ground that could cause someone to slip or trip.
- Erecting a locked gate around “attractive nuisances” like a pool or playground equipment to prevent small children from getting hurt. For example, you often see this with hotel pools – guests must swipe their room card to enter the pool area.
- Taking appropriate security measures to prevent crime. This might include steps like putting bright lighting in a store parking lot, installing security cameras, using strong locks on hotel room doors, etc. If the property has already been the site of crimes like robberies, it might also mean upgrading the current security system or taking further measures to discourage future robbers.
- Keeping cleaning or pool chemicals or any other potentially toxic or hazardous substances locked up.
- Clearly posting signs on areas that are not open to the public – for example, “Employees only beyond this point.”
An experienced Breckenridge premises liability lawyer can help you determine if your injuries occurred because the property owner was negligent or failed in their duty of care.
To successfully make a claim on the owner’s liability insurance, we will need to show that they had a duty of care, they did not fulfill this duty, and you were injured as a result of this failed duty of care.
Does a Property Owner Owe Everyone the Same Duty of Care?
A property owner has a duty of care to make the property reasonably safe for anyone who is legally on that property – usually, this means anyone but trespassers.
If the injured person is found to be trespassing, the only duty of care the owner owes them is not to willfully or intentionally harm them.
But how do we define trespassing? If the property owner asked you to leave and you did not do so in a reasonable amount of time, you would probably be considered a trespasser.
Even if the business is open to the public, the owner or manager still has a right to ask an individual to leave. For instance, if a customer starts screaming obscenities because a cashier can’t honor their expired coupon, the manager might tell the customer to leave the store.
If the angry customer stays and sustains an injury knocking over a store display, the store could argue they were trespassing.
But trespassing can occur in other ways. One example is if the business as a whole is open to the public, but certain areas of the property are not.
For example, a store manager might put an “employees only” sign on the back door to keep customers out of the storeroom. If you were to ignore this sign, go into the storeroom, and trip over a stack of boxes, the store could argue they weren’t liable because you were trespassing.
Do Premises Liability Claims Only Apply to Businesses?
No, they can also involve private property. For example, if your neighbor invites you to dinner and you trip on a hose they left lying across the walkway, they could be liable for your injuries.
On private property, people are not considered to be trespassing if they have the owner’s permission or are doing a job (such as delivering mail) that requires being on the property.
What if You Don’t Want to Sue a Local Business Owner/Friend/Neighbor?
Many people express this concern when they consult us about a potential premises liability case. Some say they would feel bad about suing a person they know, possibly a neighbor or even a good friend.
Often people tell us that the slip and fall accident wasn’t the other person’s fault – they really didn’t mean to leave that hose lying across the walkway where someone could get hurt, etc.
Other injured people say that the property owner can’t afford to pay their damages, or they don’t want the local “mom-and-pop” store to go out of business because of a lawsuit.
The good news is that liability insurance exists to cover these types of situations.
Accidents happen. Sometimes they’re unavoidable, but sometimes they’re due to a person’s or entity’s negligence.
It’s possible to be negligent without realizing it – maybe your neighbor really thought they picked up that hose, for example. Likewise, small business owners can do their best to maintain a safe store, but they can’t control everything that happens in a place that’s open to the public.
At the same time, you shouldn’t be responsible for the sometimes considerable cost of your medical care, lost income, and other damages when another party is responsible.
Most premises liability cases are resolved through negotiation with the relevant insurance company. If the accident occurred on private property, we usually seek compensation from a homeowners’ insurance policy.
If it happened in a business or organization that was open to the public, we would look at their business insurance. In both cases, these policies are designed to provide coverage for the injured person’s expenses without requiring the owner to pay out of pocket.
Is It as Simple as Filing a Claim With the Relevant Insurance Policy?
Filing a claim is often how we begin a premises liability case.
Sometimes, the insurance carrier may simply approve the claim and pay it. However, in most cases, they attempt to negotiate for a smaller amount or deny the claim altogether.
Some common reasons the insurance company may give for denying or devaluing a claim include the following:
The Owner Isn’t Liable Because the Accident Was Your Fault
This, in turn, comes with its own list of potential reasons: You were warned but ignored warnings, you were trespassing in an area you weren’t supposed to be in, you tripped and fell because you wore inappropriate shoes for the situation, etc.
Many people are upset to hear the insurance company blames them, but calling the insurance company to argue about it is not a good idea. Instead, speak with a Breckenridge premises liability lawyer.
We’ll work to find evidence that the owner was liable so we can refute the insurance carrier’s claim. Here are some examples:
- Our investigators may talk with the business’ employees who were on duty the day of your injury or track down other guests who witnessed what happened. We might learn that a hazardous situation – like a puddle under a leaking roof – had been a known issue for hours, days, or even weeks, and the company’s management failed to fix or warn customers about it.
- In some cases, we can locate video from a surveillance camera or video taken by another guest. Depending on the situation, this may show that the insurance company’s version of what happened is incorrect. For instance, if we find a video that clearly shows there was no “Employees Only” sign on the door you walked through, it will be hard for the insurance company to claim you were trespassing.
- Sometimes we find other electronic data from nearby devices that can shed light on what happened.
The Liable Party’s Policy Does Not Cover This Particular Situation
Insurance policies tend to have long lists of exclusions, so sometimes the insurance adjuster is right. However, there are also situations where the insurance company categorizes an accident as something that is not covered when this incident doesn’t truly fit the criteria.
Insurance adjusters understand that most claimants won’t know the vagaries of insurance policy language and will assume the injury isn’t covered. Your premises liability lawyer can fight to get the compensation you’re entitled to if the insurance company misclassifies your accident.
The Insurance Company Disagrees With Your Cost Estimates
Sometimes the insurance company adjuster will nitpick whether you need specific medical treatments or suggest you deserve less compensation because your injuries were less severe than you claim.
Your lawyer will work to demonstrate that your medical costs are reasonable, the treatments necessary, and the amount you seek for damages like pain and suffering is appropriate for the situation.
Contact a Breckenridge Premises Liability Law Firm
If you aren’t sure who is liable for an accident on someone else’s property or have questions or concerns about a premises liability situation, please contact the Olson Law Firm at (720) 730-4325 for a free, confidential consultation.
We’ll review your case, answer questions, and inform you of your options for seeking damages.