Usually, when we think of property owner liability, we’re thinking of a business that is responsible after a customer slips and falls or is attacked in a parking lot. But premises liability can extend to private homeowners too. It does depend on the situation, and private homeowners usually don’t owe the same high level of care to their guests that businesses do when they welcome members of the public. Nonetheless, a failure to use reasonable care can result in liability. Claims are typically paid by one’s homeowners’ insurance.
Recently, the father of a single mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a private homeowner responsible for a house in Waterville where his daughter suffered a fatal fall from the second story.
According to The Portland Press Herald, the 33-year-old woman, from Clinton, was killed a year ago after she fell after stepping out a set of sliding glass doors on the second floor. The problem was that while the doors were supposed to open up to a balcony, that feature hadn’t yet been built. Nonetheless, the homeowner, who was hosting a holiday party, failed to block off those doors or take measures to stop people from opening the door or from walking outside.
The homeowner was reportedly having the home renovated but decided to throw a Christmas party anyway. There, alcohol was served to dozens of guests. The renovations were in progress at the time of the party, but the plaintiff says the defendant lacked the proper permits for the work, and some of the renovations were in violation of the city’s building codes. Additionally, the plaintiff alleges the defendant owed a special duty of care to his daughter because she was an overnight guest who had been drinking alcohol. She was sleeping in a second-story bedroom, woke up sometime during the night, opened the sliding glass doors, and stepped outside. There was a cement patio behind the house, underneath which the sliding glass door was situated. Her body was not found until the following afternoon. By then, she had already died of blunt force injuries to her head and chest, according to the Medical Examiner.
Just two years prior, on Christmas Day, a large fire at the house heavily damaged the property and destroyed a barn and property attached to it.
The plaintiff is seeking economic damages for medical costs, funeral expenses, and loss of income, as well as non-economic damages for emotional distress. He is also asking the court for permission to ask jurors for punitive damages, which are intended to punish a defendant for egregious wrongdoing.
In any premises liability lawsuit, there are three main questions our Portland injury lawyers will ask:
- Who was injured? There are some individuals who are owed a higher duty of care than others. For example, if you are invited onto a property, you are generally owed a higher duty of care than if you trespass. Guests who are lawfully on someone else’s property have a reasonable expectation that they won’t be injured by unforeseen hazards. Those who trespass generally aren’t owed much care, except if they are a child and the claim involves an attractive nuisance (something that is especially dangerous and tends to attract children).
- What caused the injury? No guest is going to be guaranteed 100 percent safety at all times. However, there is an expectation of reasonable safety. That means property owners have to do their part to protect against dangers that are foreseeable. So this means light bulbs have to be replaced. Stairwells should have handrails. Smoke detectors should be in good working order. The exact precautions needed for each property may be subject to interpretation.
- What kinds of steps did the property owner take to prevent the injury? Guests have a responsibility to be on the lookout for dangers that are obvious. However, if it’s likely the visitor wouldn’t discover the problem or would be distracted in the course of encountering it, the property owner has a responsibility either to address it or to warn people about it.
If you have been injured on someone else’s property, an experienced premises liability attorney can help you determine your legal options.
If you are the victim of a Portland injury, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Waterville homeowner sued over woman’s fatal fall, Dec. 9, 2016, Staff Report, Portland Press Herald
More Blog Entries:
Child Pedestrian Death Highlights Perils of Poor Road Design in Maine, Dec. 9, 2016, Portland Premises Liability Lawyer Blog