Every state in the country upholds premises liability laws that dictate property owners’ responsibilities to their tenants, guests, visitors, and even trespassers on their properties. If you own residential or commercial property, you have a legal duty to ensure lawful visitors face no unreasonable safety hazards. If you identify a safety issue that could foreseeably injure a visitor to your property, you have a legal obligation to address it in a timely and efficient manner or at least warn visitors about it if they are likely to encounter it while visiting your property. Otherwise, you many be putting your visitors at risk of injury, and yourself in possible need of the help of a personal injury lawyer.
As a property owner in Montana, you have a duty of care to ensure the safety of licensees, or those you invite onto your property for personal reasons, as well as invites, or those who have your implied or express permission to enter for their own purposes. Licensees usually include neighbors, relatives, and social guests while invitees typically include salespeople, utility workers, and mail carriers. Property owners do not owe any duty of care to trespassers. If someone enters your property without your express or implied permission for any reason and suffers an injury, you cannot face liability for his or her damages.
When a property owner notices a safety issue, he or she has a duty to correct it immediately or at least warn lawful visitors about it if they are likely to encounter it while visiting the property. For residential property owners, this could be as simple as warning a guest about a loose floorboard outside of a bathroom or at the top of some stairs. For a commercial property owner like a business owner, this could include placing wet floor signs over freshly mopped sections of the floor or placing caution tape and cones around structural hazards, so customers do not sustain injuries.
While property owners generally owe no duties of care to trespassers, one exception exists to this rule in most jurisdictions. Children do not possess the same levels of self-awareness as adults nor are they capable of making decisions at the levels of adults. If a property owner has any foreseeable reason to believe a child could wander onto his or her property, the property owner does owe a duty of care to prevent such children from interloping and suffering injuries. This may include fencing off parts of a property, speaking to the children’s parents about a known safety issue, or fixing known hazards as soon as they appear.
Many jurisdictions also uphold statutes concerning attractive nuisances or elements of a property that a passing child would likely find too irresistible to ignore. Some examples could include fountains, sculptures, playground equipment, an unfenced swimming pool, or a tree that looks perfect for climbing. Property owners should take time to assess whether any such attractive nuisances exist on their properties and take appropriate cautionary measures to prevent injuries to interloping children.
The legal concept of foreseeability becomes central to most premises liability claims. If another person suffered an injury on your property, you are not automatically at fault. The standard of proving fault in a premises liability claim generally hinges on proving the injury-causing element of the property was a foreseeable safety risk the owner should have identified and addressed in a timely manner. However, the victim’s behavior could influence a legal determination of a premises liability claim.
If the plaintiff used the property in an unreasonable or unsafe way, the property owner may avoid liability. For example, if the property owner failed to mention a broken set of stairs and a visitor suffered injuries from falling down those stairs, the property owner would likely absorb liability. If the victim slid down the banister and broke it, causing a fall, this is an unsafe use of the property and the owner would likely avoid liability for the visitor’s damages.