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Each year, falls injure over eight million people. Although many of these victims are either very young or very old, falls affect everyone. In fact, falls are the leading cause of missed work and also the most common injury in hospital emergency rooms. No matter where the incident occurs, whether at work, at home, or in a public place, the landowner is responsible for injuries, if the owner had a legal duty and breached that duty. So, winning damages is basically a two-step process.
We all have certain responsibilities to behave in certain ways, as bosses, employees, spouses, parents, children, and so on. Sometimes these responsibilities come from family ties or social obligations, and sometimes they are imposed on us by law. The law also requires landowners to behave in certain ways with regard to the non-owners that come onto their property, whether that property is a grocery store, parking lot, hotel, restaurant, or whatever.
To determine duty, nearly all Indiana courts use a classification system that comes from English common law. This system divides visitors into three categories and assigns a corresponding duty.
- Trespasser: Owners generally have almost no legal duty towards visitors who do not have express or implied permission to be on the premises, so the stories of burglars who are injured breaking into houses and sue the owners are mostly urban legends. However, a duty of care does apply in some cases, including:
- Frequent Trespasser: If the owner knows that a person or group of people are likely to go onto the land without permission, such as a group of hunters who often meander over the property line, a duty of care may apply.
- Attractive Nuisance: Similarly, if the owner knows that children may be attracted to a dangerous condition on the land, like a backyard swimming pool, a higher duty may apply.
- Licensee: Some social guests, especially if the owner is not present at the time, are licensees. In these situations, the owners must warn about latent defects, like a burnt-out security light or a loose floorboard.
- Invitee: Nearly all visitors, whether the purpose is business or social, are invitees, because the owner obtains either a tangible or intangible benefit from their presence. Landowners owe invitees the highest duty of care, because owners must frequently inspect the premises and ensure that they are reasonably safe.
A few courts have replaced the common law classification system with a general duty of care that may vary in some circumstances. In either case, injury victims are entitled to compensation for their economic damages, such as lost wages, and noneconomic damages, such as loss of enjoyment in life.
To win money by establishing a breach of duty, the victim must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the owner either knew or should have known about the injury-causing condition. Sometimes, there is direct evidence, like a bathroom cleaning report that records a wet spot on the floor.
Typically, however, the victim must rely on circumstantial evidence. The standard for evaluating such evidence comes from Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Company (1911), and it is related to the color of a banana peel. In this case, the victim slipped on a banana peel which witnesses described as “flattened down, and black in color.” The court concluded that since the peel was black, it had been on the floor for quite some time, and therefore the owner should have known about it and should have picked it up.
Partner with Aggressive Attorneys
In most cases, landowners must do everything possible to prevent falls and other injuries. For a free consultation with a skillful personal injury lawyer in Indianapolis, contact Holland & Holland. Mr. Holland is rated AV-Preeminent.