If someone is injured on your property, they may be able to sue you for any damages (“costs”) related to the injury.
The success of their case will largely depend on whether or not a jury would find you liable for the person’s injuries.
Generally speaking, your liability will depend on two questions:
- Why was the person on your property in the first place?
- How did they injure themselves?
In this article, we’ll go over the basic circumstances in which someone can sue you for an injury which occurred on your property.
However, your degree of obligation in the event of an accident (i.e. “how liable you are”) will depend on a wide variety of factors.
The question of “am I liable” is impossible to answer without looking at the full details of your case.
Only an experienced attorney can tell you whether or not you may be liable in the event of a lawsuit.
Premises Liability Basics in Virginia
When taken at face value, personal injury claims are actually rather simple.
Essentially, every Virginia resident has to show a certain level of care when interacting with other people.
Whether that’s practicing safe driving or not leaving live wires around your house, you must exhibit a “reasonable amount of care” when going about your daily life.
The legal term for “am I liable if someone is injured on my property” is “premises liability.”
Essentially, premises liability is a broad and complex area of law that relates to whether or not a property owner has a legal obligation to make their property safe for others.
Put another way, it establishes a reasonable level of care for lawsuits involving injuries on your property.
Basically, these laws can be summarized in one basic point: individuals who are on your property for different reasons deserve different levels of care.
Virginia defines these different levels in three broad categories:
We’ll briefly outline these categories below.
Invitees are people you’ve invited into your property (1) under an explicit or implied invitation, and (2) for a specific purpose, such as to perform business.
The best example of an invitee would be an individual who has entered a store in order to purchase something.
Legally speaking, you have an obligation to proactively maintain a reasonable amount of safety for invitees on your property.
Put another way, you must make an effort to remedy the situation if at all possible, rather than simply warning the guest of the problem.
You must also inform invitees of any potential hazards, such as floors which have yet to dry after being mopped.
Failing to do so may result in a certain amount of liability for an accident.
A licensee is someone who enters your property for a non-business purpose, with your explicit or implied permission.
The most common example would be if you invite social guests to your home.
Your obligations to licensees are similar invitees in that you owe them a “reasonably duty of care.”
However, you don’t have to take affirmative action to fix any potential problems.
This means that you must provide them with a reasonable warning about any latent or concealed problems.
Further, you must take reasonable steps to mitigate those problems.
For example, explicitly stating “hey, there’s a gopher hole in the back yard, be careful” may mitigate your liability if someone injures themselves in the hole.
Similarly, placing a bright orange cone next to the hole with a picture of a gopher taped to it, in addition to warning them about the hole, may further limit your liability.
A trespasser is a person who enters your property without your consent.
Under Virginia law, you (generally) have no legal obligation to keep your property safe from trespassers.
However, if you deliberately made the property unsafe (such as by leaving dangerous materials or live wires around your property), the situation may be a bit more complicated.
In such cases, it’s important to consult a lawyer immediately.
What if the trespasser was a child?
Children are generally exempt from the classifications we noted above.
This is because of something called the “attractive nuisance” doctrine.
Essentially, if you have something on your property that is both attractive to children and dangerous, you may be liable if they injure themselves on the object.
For example, if your property is next to a bus stop and you leave an ill-maintained trampoline in your front yard, you may be liable if a child injures themselves on that trampoline.
However, such cases are incredibly fact-specific, and often require the insight of a lawyer to determine liability.
What Happens if Someone is Injured on My Property?
If someone is injured on your property, they may choose to sue you for any costs related to their injury.
The success of that suit, however, will depend on a variety of factors.
For example, if a licensee is injured on your property and chooses to sue you, they will have to show that you (1) knew of the dangerous condition that caused your injury, and (2) chose to neither repair nor disclose that danger.
Essentially, the other person’s case will likely rely on proving that you acted in a negligent manner.
Put another way, they’ll have to prove that you didn’t exhibit a “reasonable level of care.”
Meanwhile, your case will most likely rely on showing that you protected their safety to an appropriate degree.
In any case, the most important thing to remember is that you must speak to an attorney (and your homeowners insurance) if someone chooses to sue you for any costs related to their injury.
Only an attorney can help guide you through this complex process.
If you are being sued for an injury that occurred in your home, you should strongly consider consulting with a lawyer.
An experienced Virginia personal injury lawyer will take a careful look at your situation and assess the type of legal defense you need.
In general, this will include proving that you exhibited a reasonable level of care when looking out for the safety of your guest.