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Strict Liability for Premises Injuries

Strict Liability for Premises Injuries

When a victim suffers an injury while on property owned or maintained by someone else — whether private property like a home or premises open to the public like a shopping mall — there may be several different ways to prove legal responsibility for the injury.  The owner may have simply been negligent and allowed a temporary dangerous condition to exist. A hard-to-see puddle of water or a squashed piece of fruit in a grocery store produce aisle that makes the floor slippery and dangerous might fall in this category.  But there are other reasons or legal “theories” of liability in premises injury cases other than just negligence. Strict liability for premises injuries is one of the most useful.

What is Strict Liability?

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that establishes a person’s responsibility for injuries and damages regardless of whether the person was negligent. It essentially says that the dangerous condition or defect that caused the injury is enough in itself to prove liability — a person’s legal responsibility for injuries and damages — whether or not that person “did something wrong” by way of being negligent.

Strict liability can apply in several different types of personal injury situations, including:

  • Automobile defects
  • Defective medical devices
  • Drug products
  • Hazardous activities
  • Premises injuries

How Does Strict Liability Apply to Premises Injuries?

Someone who owns or possesses premises may have strict liability for injuries that occur on the premises in certain situations, including when the owner’s activity that led to the injuries was in direct violations of certain laws or local ordinances, when there is a serious defect on the premises that make it fundamentally unsafe, or when there are dangerous substances present or activities taking place on the premises.

Dog Bites

A frequent application of this sort of strict liability for premises injury cases is in dog bite situations that occur on residential properties. The laws related to dog bites vary considerably from state to state, and many cities and counties may have additional local ordinances related to dog attacks as well. In California, the primary statute in section 3342 of the Civil Code, which says that the owner of a dog may be liable for any personal injury damages sustained by someone who is bitten by the dog while they are in a public place (like a public road or sidewalk) or lawfully on private premises such as the dog owner’s property, whether or not there were any past incidents involving the dog.

What to do after a Dog Bite?  Watch our video below.

Serious Defects

Strict liability for premises injuries can also apply when there are serious defects in the premises themselves that lead directly to the injury. If rotten flooring or a dilapidated stairway gives way underneath a visitor’s foot and results in injury, strict liability is likely to apply. Other defects that may apply to the basic habitability of the property may also lead to strict liability.

Hazardous Substances or Activities

Unfortunately, many of us have heard of the tendency of illegal methamphetamine labs to blow up, destroying the premises where they are located as well as nearby properties. This is an extreme example of the type of hazardous substances or activities that might lead to strict liability for premises injuries.

Somewhat less extreme examples might include storing hazardous materials like explosives, fireworks, or industrial chemicals on a property, as well as activities related to working with these substances. Even where the activities or substances are not directly illegal – as in the meth lab example – these activities and materials are often highly regulated due to their inherently dangerous nature.

Why Strict Liability for Premises Injuries Matters

The most common reasons for personal injuries due to premises liability – things like slippery substances on a floor or an uneven sidewalk that causes someone to trip – are generally due to simple negligence. The property owner or possessor didn’t take reasonable precautions to fix a problem that they knew or should have known could pose a risk of injury.  Negligence can sometimes be very difficult to prove, however. Partly it is a matter of determining what was in the property owner or operator’s mind – did they know about the problem? Should they have known about it? Did the grocery store regularly inspect aisles for slippery substances? Did they properly train their employees to be aware of these dangers? Did they take adequate precautions against them?

Strict liability, on the other hand, requires none of these types of proof. It doesn’t matter whether or not the owner knew of the problem, whether they should have known about it, or whether they did anything about it. Simply showing that a visitor was bitten by a dog is much easier to prove than is showing whether or not the owner properly trained or handled the dog, whether or not it had vicious tendencies, whether or not there was a defective leash or gate latch that allowed the dog to reach the victim, etc. The simple presence of the problem is all that needs to be proven for strict liability.

Sacramento Premises Liability Lawyer

Hello, I’m Ed Smith, a premises liability lawyer in Sacramento, California. If you or a family member has suffered an injury due to a premises liability incident, please call us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice from one of our injury attorneys. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

We are proud to be members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

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