What if a trespasser is walking in your backyard, trips on a sprinkler head and twists his ankle? Can he sue you? The traditional common law of premises liability that California previously followed made a distinction between people who had been invited onto someone’s property, and trespassers. Property owners had to make efforts to keep their premises reasonably safe for people who had been invited onto the property, but only had to warn trespassers of a dangerous condition if they were aware of the trespasser’s presence. However, the California Supreme Court rejected this approach in the 1968 case of Rowland v. Christian, where the court held that there was no need to apply different standards to welcome and unwelcome guests. Rather, after Rowland, property owners are always held to the same standard: they are liable if they failed to act as a reasonable person in the management of their property.
To a large degree, Rowland simplified premises liability cases in California. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to protect yourself from premises liability claims. For example, commercial property owners generally have an obligation to regularly inspect their property for dangerous conditions. This can have a variety of repercussions. For instance, if there is an uneven surface in a walkway on someone’s property, then the property owner likely has an obligation to clearly mark that surface, or modify it to reduce the risk of injury. Similarly, the owner of a restaurant or bar may have an obligation to regularly check for drinks spilled on the floor, since the owner could be held liable if a patron was injured by a slip and fall. Finally, in a more unusual example, the owner of a dark parking lot may be liable if someone on the property is the victim of a crime which might have been prevented if the area had been well lit.
If you are a property owner who has questions about premises liability, or if you are the victim of a dangerous condition on someone else’s property, you should enlist the help of experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel. Call DK Law Group, LLP at (805) 498-1212, or email our office at firstname.lastname@example.org.