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Understanding California premises liability law

California residents who go to a store, office, theater, concert, amusement park, friend’s home or virtually anywhere else expect to be safe while they are there. They do not anticipate that they will be in danger or likely to hurt themselves because the property is poorly maintained. In other words, they expect the premises to be safe, both outside and inside.

When an accident happens and a visitor is injured, he or she may decide to sue the property owner for the harm sustained. This is called a premises liability suit, a civil action seeking money damages from the property owner.

Premises liability elements

The elements of a premises liability claim are the same as for any other type of negligence claim; that is, that the defendant had a legal duty of care, breached that duty, and the breach was the proximate cause of the resulting injury. The California Civil Jury Instructions list the four things a plaintiff must prove to establish his or her premises liability claim as follows:

  1. The defendant owned, leased, occupied or controlled the property.
  2. The defendant was negligent in maintaining or using the property.
  3. The plaintiff sustained harm while on the property.
  4. The negligence of the defendant was a substantial factor in causing that harm.

As FindLaw explains, the legal theory behind premises liability is that property owners or residents are liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property. Note that the defendant does not have to own the property. If (s)he occupied and/or controlled it, that is sufficient to establish that (s)he had an affirmative duty to exercise reasonable care in its maintenance.

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