I have represented a number of fellow South Carolinians in claims and lawsuits arising out of injuries sustained due to unsafe property conditions. These claims and lawsuits are known as premises liability actions. “Premises” simply means property. “Liability” is a legal term for responsibility. So a “premises liability” action is one that alleges another party is responsible for an injury you suffered while on their property. Individuals, corporations, and even the government may be sued because of dangerous property conditions.
Whether a defendant will be found liable for your injury depends in part on why you were on their property. South Carolina law draws distinctions between what are known as invitees (i.e. customers), licensees (i.e. social guests), and trespassers. Let's go over them one by one:
1. An invitee is a person whose presence on the property benefits the defendant financially.
For example, when you eat at a restaurant, your presence on the property benefits the restaurant in that you are spending money. The restaurant is profiting from you being on its property. The law states that because these defendants benefit from your presence, they owe you the highest duty of care. Specifically, they must take safety precautions to eliminate or warn of unreasonable risks. While defendants will often claim they were unaware of the dangerous condition, actual knowledge is not required to win a premises liability case. So long as the danger existed long enough that it could have been discovered and fixed prior to the invitee’s accident, a defendant may still be found liable. The most common example is when a customer slips and falls due to a wet floor that the business either knew or should have known about.
2. A Licensee has permission to be on the property, but provides no financial benefit to the property owner.
Licensees are on the premises primarily for their own benefit. For instance, when you are having dinner at someone else’s home, the law considers you an invitee. Your friend is allowing you into his home to have dinner, but is not profiting financially. Your primary purpose in being on the premises is to enjoy your friend’s company and have a (free) dinner. Property owners are not liable to licensees unless the owner’s own activities or some hidden danger results in harm to the licensee. A faulty step or a hole in the yard are examples of hidden dangers. Likewise, a fireworks show put on by the homeowner is an example of an activity that, if it resulted in harm to a visitor, could result in liability for the property owner.
3. Trespassers are owed no duty by the landowner.
If someone trespasses onto your property and suffers injury, you will not be found at-fault except in the rarest of cases. However, you cannot set traps for trespassers. Thus, you cannot try to cause intentional harm to trespassers with things like snares or spring guns, but if the trespasser gets injured on your land due to an accident, you will not be held responsible.
In sum, premises liability addresses the responsibilities of property owners to their customers, social guests, trespassers, and every other type of visitor under the sun, all of whom will be classified as either invitees, licensees, or trespassers. This area of law is nuanced in South Carolina. Cases are highly fact specific. If you sustained harm on someone else's property, liability must be proven if you hope to recover compensation for your medical bills and other losses. Instead of fighting the insurance giants and trying to avoid their traps by yourself, contact an attorney whose professional life has been dedicated to protecting accident victims. For free copies of my books and a free consultation, call my firm today at 803-790-2800.