Proving the elements in a licensee premises liability claim
As in all personal injury cases, it’s not enough to simply allege you were hurt. In order to invoke the court’s power to recover money for you if you’ve been hurt on someone’s property as a licensee, your attorney must fit your claim into what courts have previously found are acceptable arguments. “Elements” are to lawsuits what ingredients are to recipes: if you don’t have the main stuff in there, it’s no longer what it claims to be.
Below, we’ll address the elements your attorney must prove for your licensee case. Before we get started, be sure to click on our Overview of Premises Liability page for an easy tutorial on how these laws work.
What you’ll need to win your licensee case
Your attorney is required by the court to go find evidence for each of the elements listed below. This is his responsibility, not yours, so don’t let it intimidate you. His job is to find the documents, testimony, pictures, and expert evidence that will convince a jury that you deserve compensation. For sake of clarity, we’ll assume that your case is against a homeowner:
- You were a licensee: In essence, it must be shown that you were on the property with some legitimate permission from the defendant. You can’t have been a trespasser, basically.
- The defendant was in possession of the property: “Possession” is a term with specific legal meaning. It’s more than just ownership—if the owner has leased the property to another, then she no longer “possesses” the property because she doesn’t have the legal right to control what goes on inside. It’s like if you rent an apartment; you decide what gets cleaned, who can come in and out–not the apartment complex. Further, this can be a business establishment or governmental building.
- There was an unreasonably dangerous condition on the property: This danger must be something more than what an average person might assume would be present and cause them harm. For example, if your adult neighbor came to your house, a kitchen knife may be left out—and that’s a dangerous thing—but it’s not something a common person would know to play around with.
- The defendant KNEW the condition existed: This is a big difference between what licensees and invitees can expect. With invitees, the property owner has a duty to seek out dangers. With licensees, your attorney must show actual knowledge, not just that they’d ignored a problem they should have known about.
- You did NOT KNOW about the condition: If you knew there was a problem, say, a very loose stair or a hole in a floorboard you could trip over, you can’t blame the property owner if it causes you injury. The idea is twofold: 1) you’re an adult and should be able to watch out for known dangers, and 2) we don’t want people purposefully hurting themselves to try to get a payout from a neighbor.
- The defendant did not warn you and failed to make the condition safe: If you were walking into your neighbor’s house and she said “There’s a huge hole in the living room, don’t go in there,” you likely cannot recover from her because you knew a problem existed and proceeded anyhow.
- The accident itself actually caused your injuries: Your attorney needs to draw a straight line between the failure of the homeowner to what you’re suffering. It’s not fair to try to get your neighbor to pay for pre-existing injuries or an unrelated accident that happened later.
Proving the elements of a licensee claim is complex. You need an experienced lawyer.
One thing you can be sure of is that the property owner’s lawyer will fight your attorney at each of the above 7 elements. If the opposing lawyer can prove that one element wasn’t present at the time of the accident, your case will be summarily dismissed from court. Further, there’s a better-than-average chance that the property owner will “somehow” remember things differently, or even claim you are making the whole thing up.
Whether your attorney is able to successfully combat these efforts will depend on his experience level, his rates of prior success, and his grit. It takes painstaking work to find the evidence you’ll need to win your case. The attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have 25 years of experience in winning complex cases for substantial compensation for their clients. If you’ve been hurt, it’s time to call us. We’re here for you, 24/7.