Main Street, Hinesburg, VT 05641 | Tel: (802) 482-2905

Falls – Slip and Fall – Premises Liability – Defective or Dangerous Property

The experienced Vermont injury lawyers at Kohn Rath Danon & Lynch have helped many people who have been injured by falls resulting from defective premises.  We know how to deal with insurance companies, and can often negotiate a very favorable settlement for our clients without the necessity of a trial.  In those cases in which settlement is not possible, we  aggressively seek maximum compensation for our clients, consulting closely with clients as to their  preferences as to how they wish to proceed.

We have helped clients with falls in supermarkets, grocery stores, restaurants, various business premises with defective stairs, and a range of different types of establishments.  Sometimes falls have very serious consequences resulting in back injuries, neck injuries, broken arms or legs, injured shoulders, or various other injuries.  On other occasions, falls result in lesser injuries, but claims are still appropriate to pursue.

There is never a charge for an initial consultation — do not hesitate to call us to ask for an analysis of your case.  You can call us at 802-482-2905.

Cases like this are often referred to as “slip and fall” cases or “premises liability”.  If you are interested in an overview of the more technical legal aspects of cases like this , the following information may be of interest:

Premises Liability in Vermont

Premises liability is a subset of negligence law specific to claims arising from injuries while on a someone else’s property. If you enter onto a property for a lawful purpose, and you suffer injury because of an unreasonably risky condition that exists on the property, the you may be entitled to compensation for the injuries.

In claims based on negligence of another, you can recover damages for injuries caused by another’s negligence if you can prove that the property owner owed you a duty of care, that the property owner failed to exercise proper care by an affirmative act or omission, and as a result, you suffered injury.

Categories that Establish Duty Owed.

In premises liability cases, the duty of care is to keep a reasonably safe property for the people (entrants) who lawfully enter the property. Historically, the law attributed different duties to a possessor of land based on the status of the entrant. An entrant making a claim was owed a different duty depending on whether he or she was invited to the property, (an invitee), on the property by permission, but without a business purpose, (a licensee), or a trespasser. The landowner owed a duty of reasonable care to an invitee, a very limited duty to a licensee and no duty to a trespasser, unless the landowner acted in a wilful or wanton manner to cause injury.

An invitee is typically a person visiting a property for a legitimate business purpose. The invited is owed a duty of care, that is the expectation that the property does not have conditions that could cause injury to the invitee. For example, a person enters a grocery for the purpose of buying fruit. He is an invitee as he is there for the benefit of the landowner, and the landowner owes this person a duty to keep the property reasonably free from hazzards that cause injury (i.e. wet floors, icy steps or entrances, defective stairs).

Prior to a 2014 decision, discussed below, a licensee was owed only limited duties. A landowner had  obligations as follows:

-The landowner could not intentionally harm the licensee or lay a trap for him.

-The landowner had no liability to the licensee for the obvious condition of the premises.

-The possessor of land had a duty to watch out for licensees or tolerated intruders if he is engaged in a dangerous activity.

– The possessor of land had to warn licensees and tolerated intruders of dangerous hidden hazards he actually knew about.

For example, a social guest usually had the status of a licensee.

A landowner has no duty to keep premises in a safe condition for the benefit of trespassers. An owner does not owe any duty to a trespasser under the traditional common law view except to abstain from willful or wanton misconduct or entrapment.

These classifications based on status have led to a morass of litigation over facts and circumstances which might determine an entrant’s status.

The Vermont Supreme Court made a significant move away from the artificial classification system to determine the duty owed in Demag v. Better Power Equipment, Inc. 2014 VT 78, ¶ 10, 102 A.3rd 1101, 1105. In Demag, The Court abolished the distinction between licensees and invitees describing them as “lawful entrants” to whom land possessors owe a duty of reasonable care. Demag 2014 VT at ¶ 26, 102 A.3rd 1101, 1110. The Demag Court recognized that classification of invitees and licensees led to unfair treatment of injured claimants based on artificial or illogical classifications. In reaching its holding, the Demag court wrote: “An entrant’s status, no longer controlling, is simply ‘one element, among many, to be considered in determining the landowner’s liability under ordinary standards of negligence.’”

The Demag Court did not have before it the question of the status of trespassers and accordingly did not consider and did not make any holding concerning the status of entrants that might be trespassers. The move away from part of the traditional system for determining the obligations of landowners is an improvement in the law which will encourage increased safety of properties and fairer treatment of injured members of the public.

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