Injuries away from home: Premises liability in Rhode Island

If you or someone in your family has been injured somewhere outside your home or car, you may have questions about who is liable for those injuries and the various expenses resulting from them, such as medical bills, lost income and other costs. Injuries that occur on someone else's property often involve an area of law known as premises liability, which centers on the legal duty that landowners have to protect visitors from harm.

The following examples are just a few of the many locations where an injury may fall within the scope of Rhode Island's premises liability law:

  • Stores, restaurants and shopping centers
  • Apartment buildings
  • Private homes and yards
  • Pools
  • Fitness centers

Many premises liability lawsuits arise from falls that occur when a property is not maintained in a safe condition. For example, when someone spills a drink on a restaurant floor and the area is not promptly cleaned up or cordoned off, it may create a risk that customers will slip on the wet surface and fall down; if they do, the restaurant may be liable. Similarly, a business that fails to repair a crumbling staircase or an uneven section of pavement may be liable for any injuries that occur if those unsafe conditions cause someone to trip and fall.

Lawful entrants and trespassers

Each state has its own laws regarding premises liability, each with its own nuances and variations. In Rhode Island, the courts use a two-tiered system that creates a different duty of care for landowners depending on whether the injured person was on the property as a lawful entrant or as a trespasser.

Lawful entrants - such as customers, shoppers and social guests - are owed a duty of reasonable care by owners of the premises. This means that the landowner must take reasonable steps to protect visitors from any dangerous conditions on the premises. This applies to dangerous conditions that are actually known to the property owner as well as to those that should have been discovered in the exercise of reasonable care. Thus, returning to the example of the spilled beverage on the restaurant floor, the restaurant may be liable even if the staff did not know about the spill, so long as it is determined that they should have discovered it in the normal exercise of reasonable care.

Unlike lawful entrants, however, trespassers are generally not owed a duty of care by landowners under Rhode Island law. Thus, people who enter a property without permission, whether or not they do so with criminal intent, may be unable to recover compensation from the landowner if they are injured while doing so.

Similarly, unlike many other states, Rhode Island law does not impose a duty of care on landowners to maintain the public sidewalks that border their own property. Thus, except under certain specific circumstances, a person who is injured on a public sidewalk in Rhode Island generally cannot recover from the owner of the adjacent property.

Call to discuss your case

For more information about your legal rights and the options available for pursuing compensation if you or a family member has been injured away from home in Rhode Island, contact the personal injury lawyers at Karns Law Group to arrange a consultation.