Many people assume that when one suffers injury on the property of another (particularly a business or commercial property) the owner of that property is automatically liable for damages resulting from the injury. The fact is that Illinois' Premises Liability Law ascribes that liability to an owner or occupier only in very specific circumstances.
One of the reasons for this is that individuals bear a good portion of the responsibility for their own safety. And the myriad of circumstances under which an individual can suffer harm on another person's property can be dizzying.
Let's say you are walking near a construction site and there are clearly visible notices that indicate the side of the street on which you are walking is closed due to construction. Yet you continue to walk through because it doesn't seem dangerous. If you trip and fall on a gravel laden walkway and suffer a fracture, you will likely be considered responsible (or at least partially) for your own injury. The party responsible for maintaining the safety of that walkway has given appropriate warning that the path was dangerous and should be avoided. Because you ignored the ‘open & obvious' danger and continued along the walkway, you are deemed by the law responsible for your own actions and therefore, injuries.
Let's say, however, you walk along the same construction zone but there are no signs forbidding you from walking, but the ground is clearly uneven, laden with gravel and obviously less stable a walking path, presenting a clear and present hazard. Should you recognize and assume the risk and walk along the same path and suffer the same injury, you are still likely to be considered responsible for your fall and subsequent injury.
You see, according to the Illinois Premise Liability Act, the owner or occupier of a premises is responsible for dangers present on their property that they knew or should have known about and eliminating and/or warning individuals of hazards present. They may not have a duty to:
"…warn of or otherwise take reasonable steps to protect such entrants from conditions on the premises that are known to the entrant, are open and obvious, or can reasonably be expected to be discovered by the entrant; a duty to warn of latent defects or dangers or defects or dangers unknown to the owner or occupier of the premises; a duty to warn such entrants of any dangers resulting from misuse by the entrants of the premises or anything affixed to or located on the premises; or a duty to protect such entrants from their own misuse of the premises or anything affixed to or located on the premises."
In effect, the Act says that the owner is responsible for taking reasonable care to ensure the safety of their premises and to alert entrants to dangers and hazards not obvious to entrants, not responsible for dangers unknown to them at the time of the injury nor for dangers inherent in the normal use of the premises. Furthermore, it's clear by the language of the law that those that misuse the premises, barring a few exceptions, take their safety in their own hands.
It's not to say though that there aren't certain exceptions to the rule. For example, you may be reasonably distracted at the time of your fall. You may also have no other means of ingress or egress. Minors are often times not expected to appreciate certain dangers on properties and therefore, may be afforded greater protections under the law.
Premise liability comes into play with all areas of personal injury (i.e. animal attacks, product liability, construction accidents, etc.), so it is imperative that, should you believe you have a claim against a property owner, you immediately contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can review your case and determine the best course to follow for recovery of damages.
The experienced personal injury attorneys of Panio Law Offices have successfully recovered millions of dollars in damages in an exceptionally wide variety of personal injury cases, including premises liability.
If you have questions about a premise liability or other personal injury case, call us at (708) 928-8680. We can help.