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Responsible Parties in Premises Liability Cases

When you get injured on someone else’s premises, it isn’t always clear who might be liable for your injuries. In Illinois, the Premises Liability Act, 740 ILCS 130, allows you to sue the owner or occupier of a premises when their negligence causes your injuries, but how liability is assigned can depend upon complex factors including legal nuances and agreements between the property owner and other parties who agree to be responsible in the event of an injury. Sometimes multiple parties may share liability.

Liable parties in a premises liability case may fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Property Owners — In general, property owners are the first ones you’ll look to for recovery when you’re injured on their premises. If you’re injured at someone’s home or at a business that is occupied by the same person or company that owns the building, liability usually is relatively clear-cut. The owner is responsible if the owner’s negligence allowed the hazard that caused your injuries.
  • Renters or Lessees — oftentimes someone different than the owner will occupy the premises. The owner may be in another city or state, or even another country. The Premises Liability Act specifically includes occupiers of a building as possible responsible parties. Tenants often assume responsibility for certain aspects of maintenance or safety when they rent a premises, but the owner may retain some responsibility. For example, a retail business that rents space for a shop probably would be responsible to keep aisles clear of obstructions, but the owner still may be responsible to do things like fix potholes in the parking lot. That will depend upon the terms of the lease agreement.
  • Property Managers — Sometimes the owner of a premises will hire a property manager to perform tasks such as leasing offices or apartments, and maintaining public or common areas such as hallways, stairwells, elevators, sidewalks, and parking lots. If a property manager is in the picture, the property manager or management company may bear some or all of the liability for your injuries, but that may depend upon the terms of the agreement between the owner and property manager.
  • Condo Owners Associations — Similar to property managers, when a condominium owners association takes responsibility for maintaining areas such as hallways, sidewalks, or parking lots, the association may bear some liability when injuries happen in those areas.
  • Business Owners — Businesses often lease space in office buildings, industrial parks, warehouses, or mini-malls. If your accident happened inside the business, the business owner may be liable for your injuries rather than the owner of the actual building.
  • Dram Shops — Businesses that sell or serve alcohol have a special responsibility under the Dram Shop Act, 235 ILCS 5/6-21, when intoxicated people cause injuries, such as a sports fan at a stadium who injures someone in car accident after leaving the stadium.

Duty of Liable Parties

Once you determine a particular party or parties were responsible for maintenance of the premises where you were injured, there are other criteria that must be met before they actually become liable for your injuries.

Under the Premises Liability Act, the owner or occupier has to owe you a duty of reasonable care before the owner or occupier becomes liable for your injuries. In general, that means you were invited to the premises as a guest, were there doing business, or it was a place open to the public. It also means that the defect in the premises was something the owner or occupier knew about or should have known about and either failed to correct it or warn you about it.

However, the owner or occupier may have a defense against your claim when:

  • You knew about the defect before you were injured
  • The defect was open and obvious and you should have noticed it and taken care to avoid it
  • The owner or occupier didn’t know about the defect and couldn’t have been expected to know
  • You caused the defect through your misuse of the premises

How a Lawyer Can Help

If you’ve been injured on someone else’s property, you may be uncertain what to do or how to figure out who should be responsible to pay your medical bills and other expenses. A Chicago personal injury lawyer with experience handling premises liability claims can investigate the circumstances of your accident and determine the appropriate party or parties responsible for your injuries. Identifying the right parties is crucial to succeeding in your personal injury claim and getting your bills paid. Once the right parties have been identified, your lawyer can work to negotiate a settlement, or pursue a lawsuit to obtain compensation of your injuries.