Premises Liability Laws in Massachusetts

Premises liability is an area of tort/personal injury law that obligates property owners to keep their land, business, or property safe and free from hazards that could pose a risk of injury to those lawfully on their property.  Those who have a duty of care toward these persons may include not only the property owner, but a tenant in a leased apartment or home, a government entity, building manager, or a contractor working on the property.  The property may be a house, an apartment, restaurant, bar, mall, sidewalk, farm, sports arena, city park, amusement park, theater, hotel or motel, library, grocery store, retail store, and government building.

What is Premises Liability in Massachusetts

Typically, a premises liability claim concerns a slip and fall.  However, it could also involve a failure to provide adequate security for those on the property, injuries from fires and unsafe premises causing injuries in multiple ways. For example, a person leaving a nightclub might be robbed and physically assaulted in the club’s parking lot and it is found that the club owner had been aware of prior robberies but failed to have security guards in place.  Another example is a landlord who negligently maintained a premises resulting in injury or death. 

Degree of Care of Landowner 

The class of person who is on the property can determine the degree of care owed to that person by the property owner or entity responsible for maintaining it in a safe condition.  Anyone who enters a restaurant, bar, mall, grocery, medical office, hotel, or retail store is considered an invitee.  Such a person is invited for the benefit of the owner to purchase goods or services or to conduct any other type of business there.  In this situation, the landowner or responsible party has a high duty of care to keep the premises safe and free of hazards or to warn those on the premises of the danger. 

The care required of the owner to invitees is to periodically inspect the premises to ensure it is safe and to promptly remedy the condition within a reasonable time after discovering it or to post conspicuous warnings about the hazard.

For those invited to a home or go to a store, they are considered a licensee since their presence has no direct benefit to the landowner.  The degree of care owed by the owner to licensees is not as high as those toward invitees, but the owner still has a duty to keep the premises safe and to warn of known hazards or those the owner should have been aware of.  This might be a broken step, torn rug, or broken handrail. 

What is Adequate Notice?

Premises liability law requires that the owner have had adequate notice of the existence of the hazard.  Although periodic inspections will generally find such hazards, it may have just occurred within minutes of the person slipping and falling, for example.  But if the hazard had been present for an unreasonably long period of time, or someone had alerted the building manager or worker of the presence of the hazard and nothing was done to promptly remedy it, then the owner is deemed to have had sufficient notice and may be found negligent in failing to fix it or to warn others of its existence. 

But if the person injured on the property is unlawfully on the property and is trespassing, the owner owes no duty of care to that person should he be injured unless the owner took steps to intentionally harm the trespasser.  You could be lawfully in a building or premises but enter an area that is closed to the public and be considered trespassing so that you could potentially be precluded from collecting compensation for any injury you sustain in the restricted area.

Conditions on Property that Pose Hazards to Others

There are a variety of conditions that can pose a risk of injury who are legally on the property:

  • Broken steps
  • Slippery floor from ice or spilled beverage or food items
  • Torn rugs
  • Inadequate lighting in dark areas
  • Tools or objects left on a floor
  • Assault from lack of security 
  • Broken elevator
  • Potholes
  • Broken glass
  • Lack of or a broken handrail
  • Breathing in or coming into contact with toxic substances
  • Collapsed building
  • Collapsed chair or broken furniture
  • Falling objects
  • Failure to post a warning about the hazard

An attack by a dog or other animal at the owner’s home, or on a sidewalk or park is also part of premises liability law though it is handled by strict liability rules that your personal injury attorney can explain. 

What to Do if Injured

Should you suffer an injury on someone’s property, take the following steps:

  1. Take photos of the area or object that caused your injury such as a wet floor, broken step or handrail, or broken furniture
  2. Have someone contact management 
  3. Get contact information from any witnesses who saw you fall or sustain the injury
  4. Ask for insurance information from management 
  5. Get immediate medical attention from EMTs
  6. Do not give any oral or written statements to anyone without the presence of an attorney
  7. Contact a personal injury attorney from Burns and Jain

Premises liability claims are often difficult to handle and are routinely denied by insurers. Retaining an experienced personal injury attorney is usually the only way you can have a reasonable opportunity to receive a satisfactory settlement. 

Retain a Personal Injury Attorney from Burns and Jain 

Premises liability claims often present complex issues of liability if not damages. Handling such claims on your own is rarely satisfactory and can seriously jeopardize your opportunity to receive a reasonable settlement. Contact Burns and Jain at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your injury claim. 

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