When Must Property Owners Warn of Hazards?
PROPERTY OWNERS HAVE A DUTY TO WARN ABOUT KNOWN HAZARDS ON THE LAND.
Simply put, California property owners – and those in possession and control of land – have a duty to warn people about known hazards on the land. This includes both hazards about which the property owner has actual knowledge and those about which the property owner reasonably should have known.
This duty to warn includes not only hazards caused by the person who owns, controls, or possesses the land, but also hazards created by natural conditions and other people or entities.
Furthermore, property owners may have a duty to do more than merely issue warnings. The land owner’s duty may also involve taking action, such as posting warning signs, constructing fences, or taking action to mitigate (lessen) the hazardous condition itself, to avoid or prevent injuries.
THE DUTY TO WARN MAY NOT APPLY TO “OBVIOUS HAZARDS”
Some hazardous conditions are so obvious that the existence of the condition itself serves as sufficient warning. For example: train tracks create an obvious danger of passing trains. Where a condition, and the attendant danger, is so obvious that no reasonable person needs a warning, the land owner may not have a duty to post additional warnings. However, the lack of a duty to warn may not exempt the land owner from the duty to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of injury or damage — such as constructing fences near railroad tracks.
The land owner’s duty with regard to obvious dangers may shift from warning to certain kinds of protective action because the risk of injury from an obvious danger is often highly foreseeable, so reasonable people would often take steps to prevent such injuries from taking place.
That said, a land owner’s specific duty–even with regard to obvious dangers–often varies based on the facts and circumstances of the specific harm or risk at issue, the likelihood (or foreseeability) of harm, and whether or not a reasonable person would take steps (and if so, what kind of steps) to mitigate the risk.
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