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Premises Liability
Premises Liability

Premises liability cases address the legal duty of property owners.

Many scenarios fall under premises liability. A store customer opens a cooling unit to reach for an item and a heavy door slams into her head. A shopping cart speeds along the floor, striking a customer.

A homeowner, legally burning brush, walks away and a neighbor child stumbles onto hot coals, sustaining severe burns. Pool injuries can present premises liability issues. Slip and fall accidents are addressed in another article.

The Duty of Property Owners

Landowners must act reasonably in maintaining property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk. Failure to do so may result in an injury and a subsequent lawsuit from the victim.

What Does That Mean?

The fact of an injury on a property doesn’t automatically make the property owner liable for the injury. The injured person has a burden to prove that those in control of the property did something rising to the level of negligence.

Was the injury foreseeable? The traditional negligence test holds that if the defendant could not reasonably foresee an injury, there’s no liability. But, where a potential harm is foreseeable, the premises operator faces a duty to take reasonable precautions.

A reasonable precaution exists where the burden of taking the precaution is low in comparison to the gravity of the harm.

An example would be where it would be relatively easy to cover up exposed electrical wires that could cause an electrocution. Here, the burden of taking the precaution is low compared to the gravity of the harm. This is a reasonable precaution.

The test of reasonable care under all circumstances applies to both owners and occupiers of property in maintaining property.


Where a specific danger causes an injury, in order to recover the injured person must prove that those in control either knew or should have known of the danger. For example if the electrical wires in the above example were exposed for a period of time out in the open, the property owner is more likely to be held liable. If the wires were cut by a customer, an injury occurs shortly after with no opportunity for notice, liability is less likely.

Premises Liability Law: State Law

Procedural requirements vary widely under the laws of each state. Consult with an attorney right away to comply with mandatory notice requirements and other hurdles that can end a claim if not handled properly in a timely manner.

The above general liability analysis is substantially similar to the law in many states, but is specifically derived from cases in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the two states in which I am licensed.


  1. You know what? People should not be such klutzes and then sue. But at the same time most stores, landlords and other commercial property owners are very well aware of the dangers and are in a position to take care of the floor or the steps or the parking lot or other area that might be dangerous.

  2. It doesn’t seem correct that nearly all stores, whether grocery, big box or whatever they make money selling, have displays and signs all over the place which naturally attract your attention, but then if you fall, they accuse you of not looking down at the floor at all times inspecting the pathway for safety. But its true in America that the landowners were the ones with all of the power, they were the only ones who could vote originally. So, the law which is slow to evolve still favors the property owners even in personal injury law if you are injured in an accident.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

The information on this web site is offered for informational purposes only. It is not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice. Laws vary widely from state to state. You should rely only on the advice given to you during a personal consultation by a local attorney who is thoroughly familiar with state laws and the area of practice in which your concern lies. This web site must be labeled advertisement in some jurisdictions.