The Duty of a Property Owner to Prevent Slip and Fall Accidents in Connecticut
The stereotypical slapstick scene of someone slipping and falling on a banana peel may bring a smile to the viewer of a movie, but that scenarios can be a headache in real life for property owners. One of the responsibilities that goes along with the privilege of owning property in the U.S. is the duty to keep that property in a safe condition. Property owners are liable for the damages that visitors sustain if the owners fail in their duty to keep their property free from danger. However, the extent of liability differs based on whether the visitor is an invitee, licensee or trespasser.
Connecticut maintains the traditional distinction between different types of visitors and holds that property owners owe the highest duty of care to maintain safe premises for invitees – or those whom the property owner invites onto his or her property to do business or who come onto the property to use it in a manner for which the owner holds the property out to the general public. The most common example of an invitee is a person who goes into a store to shop.
Property owners must regularly inspect their property for hidden dangers and, if necessary, make repairs or construct safeguards to make the property reasonably safe for invitees. Property owners are liable for dangers on the property that a person would discover during a reasonable inspection of the premises and has a duty to warn invitees of those dangers. Courts will attribute knowledge of such hazards to the property owner, whether he or she actually knew of them or not. However, a property owner is not liable for injuries resulting from a hidden defect on the property that he or she could not have discovered through a reasonable inspection of the property.
The Connecticut Supreme Court has adopted a “mode of business” rule in slip and fall cases, wherein injured parties who are on property to conduct business, such as store patrons, can still recover damages, even if the business owner did not have actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition which caused the injury, if the way the business runs makes it foreseeable that invitees would risk slipping and falling.
Property owners owe a slightly lower duty to licensees, or those who come on the property at the owner’s invitation or have the owner’s permission to enter the land. An example of a licensee is a friend visiting another friend at home.
The property owner has no duty to inspect the property for peril or build protective barriers around dangers for licensees in the same manner he or she does for invitees. However, if a property owner knows of a hazardous condition on the property, he or she must warn the licensee of it or take other steps to make the property reasonably safe. Property owners do not have to warn licensees of open and obvious risks, but a risk that is open and obvious in daylight may be concealed at night – which means the property owner would then have a duty to warn about the risk.
A special situation arises when social guests come to rental property. If a licensee is visiting a person who lives in an apartment, for example, and trips on the front stairs leading into the building, the apartment renter is not liable for the licensee’s injury because he or she did not control that area of the property. The landlord would be responsible for the injury if the injured person can prove:
- The landlord was responsible for maintaining area in which the injury occurred;
- Repairing the area would not have been prohibitively expensive or difficult;
- It was foreseeable that someone would get injured in the area; and
- The fact that the landlord did not maintain the area caused the injury.
A property owner owes no duty to a trespasser on his or her land, because trespassers enter property without permission and the land owner may not be aware of the trespasser’s presence. The landowner need not warn a trespasser of dangers on his or her land, hidden or otherwise. The only legal obligation a landowner has with respect to trespassers is if he or she has reason to believe that children will trespass on the property. A property owner needs to repair any hazards or secure any potentially dangerous areas so that children will not be able to access them. Often people refer to this as the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. A common example of the landowner’s duty in this regard is that people with swimming pools on their property must erect fences around them so that children cannot go swimming in them unsupervised and without the knowledge of the pool owner.
Property owners have an obligation to take care of their property and prevent conditions that may cause injury to people. Businesses have the highest obligation to do so because they invite people onto their property in order to make a profit. If you have been injured because you slipped and fell on someone else’s land, do not hesitate to contact an experienced attorney who can discuss your situation with you and advise you of your options.