An accident that leaves you injured can be a major financial setback – you have medical bills, lost wages from missing work, and possibly other expenses like traveling for medical care or paying for help with tasks you usually do yourself.
Many people struggle to pay these bills on their own because they aren’t aware there may be a relevant insurance policy to cover their costs. If you were injured on someone else’s property, a premises liability lawyer could help you explore the options for seeking compensation.
Do You Need a Summit County Premises Liability Attorney?
An experienced Summit County premises liability attorney is essential to help you determine the liable party (or parties) and establish that they (or their insurance carrier) should be responsible for your damages. Here are some common issues your lawyer will discuss with you:
Why Were You On the Property?
This question is essential because the other party might claim you were trespassing.
Under Colorado law, property owners have a duty of care to maintain a reasonably safe environment for people who are on their property legally. However, the duty of care an owner has to a trespasser is relatively low.
The owner has the strongest duty of care to anyone who is on the property for their financial benefit – customers, business associates, vendors, etc. Owners also owe a substantial duty of care to social guests.
Note that if you were an employee of the business where you were hurt, your case would most likely be handled as a worker’s compensation claim.
In most situations, if you were in a business that is typically open to the public, it would be hard for the owner or manager to claim you were trespassing. However, there are some situations where this may be possible.
For instance, they might say that you were in an area marked as “Employees Only” or that you were on the property outside of regular business hours.
If we can find evidence that these restrictions were unclear – for example, if there was no sign on the door indicating it was “Employees Only” – we may be able to argue against this claim.
What Was the Owner’s Actual Duty of Care?
“Duty of care” is a legal term that describes a person’s obligation to use caution in the same way that any reasonable person would in similar circumstances.
Sometimes personal injury cases hinge on what a “reasonable person” might do, but in general, it means taking typical steps for safety and security, such as:
- Removing or fixing a hazard as soon as the owner/manager becomes aware of it. If the hazard can’t be fixed in a timely manner, it’s reasonable to warn people of the hazard. For instance, a reasonable person might put out a bucket and a wet floor sign to warn people away from an area under a leaking roof.
- Preventing crime and violence. Reasonable steps might include installing a security system, placing cameras in prominent places, hiring one or more security guards (depending on the size of the building), teaching employees about signs of criminal activity and what to do in emergencies, etc.
- Securing dangerous items or substances. For instance, a hotel manager would want to ensure that the pool cleaning chemicals aren’t left sitting by the pool where an unsuspecting child might get into them. It would be reasonable to keep these chemicals in a locked closet where only management and trained staff members can access them.
- Securing potentially dangerous areas. We’ll return to the hotel pool for this next example. Any business owner or manager who operates a public pool should be aware of the risks. It would be reasonable to ensure the pool is in a locked pool room (if indoors) or a gated area (if outdoors). That way, only adult guests with key cards could access the pool, preventing situations where a small child wanders off and falls into the pool, etc. Signs should also be posted, noting whether or not there is a lifeguard on duty.
- Managing equipment rentals. If a business is renting potentially dangerous items, such as golf carts or ATVs, it should take reasonable care to explain the risks to renters and ensure the renters are able to safely operate the equipment. For this reason, you may have been asked to sign a waiver or release when renting an item like an ATV at a business. It’s important to note, however, that a waiver doesn’t cover all liability. If you had an accident due to a hazard on the business owner’s property, they may still be liable.
There could also be concerns about timing and whether the owner/manager had a reasonable opportunity to fulfill their duty of care.
For example, if you slipped on a single grape that had fallen onto the floor in a grocery produce department, it would be important to find out how long the grape had been on the floor.
If the grape had been there for hours and was in an easily visible place where an employee should have seen it and picked it up, then the store might be liable.
On the other hand, if a customer dropped the grape five minutes before you entered the produce department, it would be reasonable to assume the store employees probably hadn’t noticed it yet.
You may be thinking that you have no idea how long the grape you slipped on was there. We understand – that’s why we have a team of skilled investigators to learn more in such situations.
We’ll search for video evidence, witnesses, the store’s incident report, and more. Some of this evidence may disappear over time, so the sooner you contact us after your accident, the better.
What If You Were the Victim of a Crime on Someone Else’s Property?
We’ve mostly talked about a business owner’s duty of care to prevent accidents like a patron slipping and falling on a wet floor. But as noted above, premises liability cases can also involve intentional acts if the business fails to take reasonable steps to protect guests from crime.
Sometimes we meet crime victims who want to sue the perpetrator for damages. While we understand how much you might want the person responsible to pay for their actions, this isn’t always a good option for several reasons:
- The burden of proof in criminal cases is relatively high – the defendant must be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there isn’t enough evidence, the perpetrator may not be convicted or, in some cases, even charged.
- The burden of proof in civil cases is much lower – a jury only has to decide the defendant is “more likely than not” guilty of causing the plaintiff’s damages by a “preponderance of the evidence.” While it may be easier to win a civil case than a criminal one, that does not necessarily mean you can recoup all your damages from the perpetrator. If you have a high-dollar claim and the defendant has few or no assets we can seize, you might win an award you can’t collect.
- In some cases, the perpetrator is never caught or even identified.
We understand it’s frustrating to accept that you can’t make the person responsible pay your damages. However, a premises liability case could at least make it possible to pay your bills and recover financially from the damage your injuries caused.
If you were hurt due to criminal activity on another party’s property, your attorney will help you determine if the property owner’s neglect left you vulnerable. Here are some examples:
- You go to the local convenience store for a soda and have the misfortune of walking in during an armed robbery. The robber panics, and you suffer a gunshot wound, leaving you out of work for weeks with new medical bills arriving daily. We investigated and found out the convenience store had been robbed twice previously, and the owner made no security changes to prevent further robberies. The security cameras were unconnected to any recording or security system and were only in place to give the appearance of security. There was no “silent alarm” for the cashier to activate because the owner didn’t want to pay for an alarm company service. In this situation, the business owner may have been negligent.
- You’re returning to your car after buying groceries in the evening, and a mugger demands your wallet. They decide you aren’t getting it out fast enough and shove you to the ground, breaking your nose. We investigated and learned the parking lot has poor lighting and no video surveillance, making it a convenient target for muggers.
If you’ve been injured during a crime on another party’s property, a premises liability lawyer can help you determine if you have grounds for a claim against the owner.
What Insurance Policy Covers Accidents On Another Party’s Property?
If you are injured at a business, such as a store, warehouse, theme park, sports arena, etc., your injuries may be covered under the company’s business liability insurance.
Virtually all businesses that are open to the public have liability insurance for situations where a customer or guest is injured on the property. However, there may be differences in coverage depending on the policy and the nature of the business.
How Can You Get Help From a Summit County Premises Liability Law Firm?
Please contact the Olson Law Firm for a free consultation. If there is a relevant insurance policy or liable party, we will find out and explain your options for seeking damages.
Call us today at (303) 586-7297.