Over the years, major advances in the field of transportation have made it relatively easy for people to move about the country. Many people find themselves in indefinite living situations, changing jobs, going to college or maybe just moving to a new area. In these types of circumstances, ownership may not be all that intriguing or feasible. Luckily, on the other end of the spectrum, there are usually handfuls of owners looking to rent or lease out their property. This perfect alignment of supply and demand leads to frequent property agreements. Although one hopes that everything runs smoothly throughout the occupation, inevitably sometimes accidents or problems may occur.
One specific type of problem that can be faced deals with the question of who is responsible for injuries or damages that result from a defect in the premises in which someone is not the owner. It is also important to note that agreements involving homeownership are not the only circumstances in which these particular problems may arise. Alternatively, one may find themselves injured somewhere they are visiting or momentarily staying at such as a hotel, museum, or baseball game.
In the state of Louisiana, in order to recover under the theory of premises liability, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. The plaintiff would likely be the one who does not own the premises and has been injured in some way. The plaintiff’s burden under Louisiana law consists of proving four things: 1) that the injuries were caused by a defect in the defendant’s premises that created an unreasonable risk of harm to the plaintiff; 2) that the defendant knew or should have known of the defect; 3) that the damage could have been prevented by the use of reasonable care; and, 4) that the defendant failed to exercise such reasonable care.
An unreasonable risk of harm exists in a defect that would likely injure someone using ordinary care. The plaintiff therefore must prove the defect in the defendant’s premises created an unreasonable risk that could have been noticed and resolved if the defendant had used reasonable care. The defendant, typically the premises owner, is then only liable in instances where the defect meets the aforementioned four criteria. Each defect is examined based on the circumstances of the particular situation. An example of this would be that a defect in a factory would likely be examined differently than a defect in a public bathroom.
Last fall, in Dixon v. Iannuzzi, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals applied this Louisiana law on premises liability. In Dixon, the plaintiff had fallen down the stairs in a town home that she had been leasing. She sued the owner claiming that the injuries were caused by defects in the stairs. The plaintiff supported this position by alleging that the defects violated several building codes. The court held that although building code violations are helpful guidelines, they alone do not prove an unreasonable risk of harm. The court affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant because testimonies from the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s roommate established that the stairs had been safely used for years without indication of any defects. This showed that the stairs did not contain any defects that were obvious enough to alert an ordinary person using reasonable care that there was any danger. The plaintiff in this instance failed to meet the burden of proof in order to recover.
It is important to fully understand the liability and legal protection associated with accidents or any type of damage resulting from a premises’ defect. Whether owning property, moving, or traveling within Louisiana, or even making a cross country trip, be aware that premises liability laws will vary from state to state, and it is important to be informed so that you can protect yourself.
If you have any questions about premises liability or you have been injured and are wondering if you are entitled to any legal relief do not hesitate to call the Berniard Law Firm today to speak with an attorney immediately.