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Assigning liability to property owners

The general assumption amongst most in California is that if one suffers an injury on another’s property, liability for such an injury automatically lies with the property owner. Yet is that really the case? 

The answer to that question may depend on several elements, all of which involve both a property owner’s obligated duty of care and the individual actions of accident victims themselves. 

Defining one’s “duty of care”

A “duty of care” is the responsibility that one inherently owes to another depending on the context of a situation. In the case of premises liability, property owners must typically ensure that their homes, offices and surrounding lands are free of any hazardous conditions that could injure visitors. When determining whether a property owner met this expectation, California’s Civil Jury Instructions mandate that those hearing a case consider such elements as: ‘ 

  • The potential for a condition causing harm  
  • Whether the property owner might have contributed to the condition 
  • The difficulty in preventing the condition from causing harm 
  • The likelihood that visitors would encounter the condition in the same manner a plaintiff did 

If jurors determine that the aforementioned elements would warrant liability in a specific case, then they must decide whether the property owner took adequate action to either correct the condition or warn visitors to the property of its presence. Property owners are not the only parties who have a duty of care; tenants and caretakers also must work to ensure the properties they occupy or maintain remain safe. 

Exceptions to premises liability

There are cases where the actions of an injured party may override a property owner’s duty of care. These may include scenarios where a hazardous condition was in “plain view,” (and thus believed to be easily avoidable). Another may be where one trespasses on another’s property.