Your lawyer must prove each of the elements of your invitee premises liability case
Whether your on trial for theft, are suing a former business partner for breach of contract, or are filing a claim against a business where you got hurt, perhaps the most common feature between these three things is that the legal system requires proof of the "elements" of each cause of action or allegation. Basically, elements are the "ingredients" of a suit, and without one, the whole thing falls apart. For example, one of the elements of theft is that the defendant stole someone else's property---if you could prove at your theft trial that the car you "stole" was actually yours, then your case should be tossed out.
Below, we'll explain what the elements are in a case against a business by an invitee for injuries or death sustained on the business's property. Make sure you click on our Comprehensive Premises Liability Guide for a full explanation of what you need to know of these cases in general.
What you need to prove to win your case.
Unless your attorney can show sufficient evidence that each of the following "ingredients" was present at the time of your accident, your case will get dismissed from court:
- You were an "invitee." You must have been on the business's property for the "benefit" of the business. An easy example is you're walking down the street and see an "On Sale" sign at a clothing store. If you walk into the store with even just an smidgeon of interest in buying some clothes, you're an invitee. The protections afforded invitees are greater because the business induced you to come onto their property in the hopes that the business might profit in some way. If, on the other hand you went into the store because you saw a friend and wanted to say hello, you're not an invitee.
- The defendant business was a "possessor" of the premises. The business you're trying to sue cannot be held responsible for property it didn't control. If you're at a mall and slip on the floor right outside of a restaurant, then you'll likely only be able to sue the mall, not the restaurant. There is often no clear line, however, about who controls what. Your lawyer will need to investigate this thoroughly.
- A condition on the premises posed an unreasonable risk of harm. This is a gray area in many cases because virtually everything we do brings some risk. There is no "list" of which conditions are unreasonably risky and which aren't. Instead, it's up to your attorney to explain to a jury why, say, this puddle of water or that loose floor board wasn't just risky, but no reasonable premises holder would ever have let it exist on their property.
- The defendant knew or should have known about the danger. Courts view it as unfair told hold premises owners liable for everything. Obviously, if a meteor suddenly fell from space, crashed through the ceiling at your local Wal-Mart and caused you injury, no reasonable person would think Wal-Mart should be held liable. On the other hand, you'll notice that the element says the defendant "knew or should have known" of the problem. Basically, this keeps business owners on the hook to actively seek out problems, rather than let them hide behind ignorance.
- The defendant breached his duty of care. This is the part where the "bad behavior" comes in. Replace the prior meteor example in Wal-Mart with a large loose ceiling tile. The managers and staff at Wal-Mart either knew the tile was loose and did nothing, or should have done a better job inspecting their building to ensure serious hazards like that weren't present. This element, however, has two sub-elements: 1) The business must have failed to adequately warn their customers AND 2) they didn't fix the problem. If, for example, Wal-Mart discovered the loose tile and roped off the area below with a warning sign until it was fixed, that might well be sufficient warning.
- The defendant's breach actually caused your injuries. Sometimes called "proximate cause," courts require plaintiffs to tie the bad behavior of the defendant to how you were hurt. Let's combine the previous Wal-Mart examples. If the store didn't remove the tile, it fell and caused a customer to die after crushing the customer's skull, that's proximate cause. If, however, the loose tile was dangling from the ceiling when the meteor crashed through the building and killed a customer below, that's not proximate cause. In each case, Wal-Mart was negligent, and in each case, a person died, but that negligence was superseded by the meteor.
The importance of a thorough attorney
If the defendants can prove your lawyer hasn't any evidence that complies with the rules of evidence for any one of the elements above, your case will get dismissed by a judge long before it ever makes it before a jury. That's why you need a premises liability attorney who's been down this road before, and successfully. If you've been hurt, call the premises liability attorneys at Grossman Law Offices right now to learn what we can do for your rights.