Whenever an individual enters property occupied by owners - whether it be a restaurant, retail store, grocery store etc. - these owners have a legal obligation to protect the individuals on their premises from harm. This entails ensuring that their property is safe and secure by maintaining safe conditions devoid of defects and malfunctions. When the duty to protect visitors is breached, and someone happens to slip and fall on the property due to a wet floor in a store, for example, an injured person may be able to file a premises liability claim. Whether one has a viable claim depends on whether there is an element of negligence, and if the property owner should be legally responsible for the accident. For the purposes of this article, we'll explore the duty of Colorado property owners to visitors, the circumstances that validate premises liability claims, and slip and fall accidents.
The Duty of Colorado Property Owners
When a visitor enters a property, they have every right to have a reasonable expectation of staying safe and unscathed upon abiding in a space. In accordance with Colorado law, a landowner must take all necessary precautions to ensure visitors are protected. This effort is called the duty of care. In the event that this duty is breached and a visitor is injured, a plaintiff may be able to file a premises liability claim. In order for this claim to be considered viable in a court of law, it must include several elements that prove the actions, or lack of actions, constitute as negligence. Therefore, through evidence and testimonials and with the assistance of a skilled attorney, a plaintiff should be able to comprehensively prove all of the following elements:
- A landowner knew, or should have reasonably known, that the space they own and maintain is unsafe,
- With this apparent knowledge, the landowner failed to make any efforts to remedy or correct the unsafe conditions of his or her premises
- There was a correlation between the landowner's failure to take steps to ensure the safety of visitors and the injury inflicted upon a visitor, and
- The injury led to damages and losses that a plaintiff wishes to be compensated for
It's important to note that assessing an owner's “reasonableness” depends on their prior efforts to maintain a safe and secure premises and their realistic ability to correct a hazardous space.
For example, let's say a teenager in a grocery store accidentally spills soda in an aisle and leaves the spill to get help from an employee. One minute later, you enter the aisle completely focused on shopping, and you slip and fall in the puddle, injuring yourself. Since the hazardous area had not been there long enough for the owner to be informed of it, there would be no way to clean up the spill within a reasonable amount of time. Therefore, a court may find that a landowner is not at fault for a plaintiff's injury.
Minor details of a slip and fall accident should be discussed with an attorney to determine if an injured person's claim would be feasible to a court of law.
As mentioned earlier, determining liability in a slip and fall case almost always involves the question of duty. Various degrees of responsibility is owed to visitors based on their status. Under Colorado law, there are three types of visitors: an invitee, a licensee, and a trespasser.
Invitees are members of the public that have explicitly or indirectly been asked to enter and remain on a property. In most case, invitees are individuals who go to places that are available to the public. Guests in a restaurant or consumers in a store are examples of invitees.
Unsurprisingly, these types of visitors are the ones that most commonly file premises liability claims due to the fact that they are granted the highest duty owed by a property owner. Landowners are obligated to warn invitees about blatant and observable defects and malfunctions. If they themselves are unaware of these potential hazards, they are required to conduct inspections to locate them on their premises.
A licensee is an individual who obtains the privilege of entering or remaining on premises for their own benefit. An example of a licensee would be a house guest. A licensee injured on a property and wishes to pursue legal recourse must prove, with the help of a legal professional, that the owner was knowledgeable of unsafe conditions and did not provide an adequate warning. However, licensees have the burden of proving that he or she was not aware, and could not have been reasonably aware of the hazardous conditions prior to being injured in the accident.
Trespassers are referred to as individuals who enter a property without the permission of a landowner. The only way a trespasser may recover damages while unlawfully on premises is when an owner exhibits willful misconduct - intentional conduct that an owner knows, or should have reasonably known would end in an injury to the trespasser.
Slip and Fall Liability
Most injuries that inspire an injured person to file a premises liability claim stem from a slip and fall accident. Each state assigns liability in civil cases differently. In Colorado, courts adhere to a system of modified comparative fault. This means that an injured party may only recover damages if he or she is found to be less than 50% liable for their own injuries.
For example, let's say you decide to talk up a stairway while simultaneously texting a friend. While distracted, you don't notice a sign saying that a handrail is broken and will be fixed shortly. When you reach the top of the stairway, you lose your balance and reach out for the handrail, but it falters, causing you to fall down a flight of stairs. A court may find that you are somewhat responsible for your injuries, due to the fact that a sign was there, but you didn't bother to read it. Other factors of a case may pin some liability to the premises owner. Nevertheless, if a judge or jury finds that you are 70% liable for your injuries, you will not be able to recover damages.
Experienced Colorado Personal Injury Attorneys
If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal today for a consultation.