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Determining responsibility in premises liability cases

New York City residents who have been injured while on commercial or private property owned or occupied by others have certain rights. The legal theory behind premises liability statutes makes property owners and occupants legally liable when others suffer accidents and injuries while on their property.

These rights include having a reasonable expectation that you will not be injured on the property under normal circumstances such as delivering a package or eating a meal in a restaurant. But, as with all laws, there are some caveats. If a Fedex driver slips on a slick patch of ice on your steps while delivering your package, he may be able to file a claim against your homeowner's insurance or even sue you. You also assume liability even if you don't own the property but are occupying it. However, if the same deliveryman is impaired or intoxicated when he falls, his claim may be invalidated.

While it may seem quite unfair, trespassers on your property have limited rights. For instance, if a store owner who has been burglarized many times rigs his shop door or window so that someone attempting unauthorized entry triggers a gunshot or other artificial condition that can cause death or serious injury, he may be liable for their injuries if he did not give reasonable warning. If the artificial condition is quite obvious, say a visible tiger or other exotic animal patrolling the premises, he may not be liable for trespassers' injuries.

Owners of venues like nightclubs and bars have to reasonably protect their patrons from harm. This could include hiring off-duty police or other security guards during regular business hours or special events to insure patrons' safety. They must also make sure that their business site is up to date with all fire and city codes and can pass inspection.

Liability may be limited via comparative fault, which determines that a visitor bears a certain level of responsibility for the occurrence. Comparative fault due to their own negligence can reduce and limit legal damages by the percentage that equals their guilt in the incident.

Source: FindLaw, "Premises Liability: Who Is Responsible?" Aug. 14, 2014

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