Dangerous Property Conditions

What is a dangerous property condition?

When lawyers talk about “premises liability” they mean a dangerous property condition. This means something on a piece of property—a house, a store, a government-owned building, a public park, etc.—was unsafe and caused injury. For example, if a branch from a tree on the sidewalk falls and hits you, the city may be liable for not keeping an eye on the tree. Another example is if someone’s stairs or deck collapse and injure you because the property owner didn’t maintain the wood or building.

If you have been injured on someone else’s property, you should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible to see if you are entitled to compensation.

How do I know if I have a good case for a dangerous property condition?

Your lawyer will be able to tell you for sure whether you have a good case that is worth taking to court. However, the general rule for a successful premises liability case is:

  • the owner of the property knew or should have known about the dangerous condition, and
  • the condition caused your injury

Premises liability law allows you to recover from both private and government property owners. It is important to keep in mind that the statute of limitations for suing the government is shorter than it is for suing private parties. This is why it is important to meet with a lawyer as soon as you have been injured on someone else’s property.

How do I know if I was injured by a private or public property owner? And why does it matter?

Private property is any property not owned by the government (city, county, state, or United States). This includes homes, retail stores, restaurants, and most parking lots, as well as other types of property.

A private property owner is required by law to keep their property safe and to warn people about possible hazards. For example, stores must put out caution signs when a floor has been mopped, and garages have to put up “Low Clearance” signs and other signs warning drivers to look out for pedestrians. If a private property owner fails to maintain their property or to warn about potential dangers, the owner will be liable for any injury resulting from this negligence. Examples of injury resulting from unsafe private property include:

  • Slipping and falling because of debris or liquid on the floor in a store or supermarket
  • Injury resulting from a collapsed balcony or stairway
  • Slipping and falling because of oil or grease on garage ramps or floors
  • Tripping and falling over objects on the floor
  • Being struck by falling objects in a store

Public property includes places like parks, government buildings (City Hall, courthouses, the DMV building, etc.), sidewalks, roads, and common stairways in buildings. Examples of injuries resulting from dangerous public property include:

  • Tripping over tree roots or uneven sidewalks
  • Injury resulting from fallen power lines
  • Injury resulting from potholes
  • Being struck by falling tree branches on a sidewalk or in a park
  • Unsafe conditions on a public playground

A government property owner is subject to the same duty to maintain property and warn of risks that private owners are subject to. However, the statute of limitations for suing the government for unsafe premises is six months from the time of injury, instead of two years [IS THIS RIGHT?] for private property owners.

What should I do if I have been injured on someone else’s property?

It is very important to document your injury and preserve evidence.

To document your injury, make sure you take photographs of the place the injury occurred before the dangerous condition is repaired. Try to show everything as it was at the time of your accident—time of day, lighting conditions, objects lying around, etc. Make sure you use a ruler or tape measure to show the dimensions of the defect. Take photographs to show the direction from which you approached the defect—where you were looking, where you were facing and/or walking.

To preserve evidence, make sure you put the shoes you wore at the time of your accident in a safe place and do not wear them again. It is possible the soles of your shoes contain evidence of oil or other debris that will help prove your case, and an expert will have to examine them. Continuing to wear your shoes after your accident puts this evidence at risk.

It is extremely important to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible after your accident to ensure the statute of limitations for your claim doesn’t expire.