People Have a Duty to Maintain Property And Eliminate Hazards
People who own, possess, or control property have a legal duty to maintain the land (and buildings or other structures on it) in reasonably safe condition.
Many times, the duty is described as a “landowner” duty, but in reality it applies to people other than landlords and property owners alone. Anyone who has possession or control of property, or who owns property, may have this duty with regard to the land they own, possess, or control.
THE DUTY APPLIES TO BOTH NATURAL CONDITIONS AND BUILDINGS OR OTHER CONSTRUCTED IMPROVEMENTS
Under the older, common law rule, the land owners’ duty (which often was owed only by owners of land) applied only to “improvements” constructed on the land – non-naturally occurring conditions and objects like houses, fences, and swimming pools. Naturally occurring hazards like rotten trees, lakes, and other “natural features” were not included in the land owner’s duty to repair and warn.
Modern law takes a more expansive approach to the duty, and requires people who own or possess real property to inspect and repair not only buildings and constructed improvements, but naturally-occurring conditions also. The law makes no distinction between naturally-occurring hazards and constructed or artificial ones. For this reason, homeowners have been held liable for dangerous landscape features as well as construction hazards and improperly-maintained yards, buildings, and other conditions.
The question under modern law is merely whether the land (and everything on it) was maintained in a reasonably safe condition, or whether unreasonably hazardous conditions were allowed to exist and continue.
THE DUTY TO MAINTAIN PROPERTY APPLIES TO NON-TRIVIAL CONDITIONS.
People in possession and control of property, as well as land owners, must keep the property free of hazardous conditions and take actions to remedy, fix, or warn people entering the land of dangers.
However, the duty and the law do not hold land owners and possessors liable for damages or injuries resulting from “trivial conditions” or “trivial defects.” These trivial hazards generally will not create liability, even if injury actually results. That said, land owners should be careful when evaluating hazards; it’s better to mitigate or repair than to risk a court deciding a dangerous condition was more than merely trivial. Also, land owners have a duty to mitigate “known” hazards, so once a danger becomes apparent, or is discovered through reporting or inspection, it’s better to repair it than risk an injury.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Negligence and premises liability claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against a property owner who permitted or failed to repair a dangerous condition, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.