Suing the Defendant for an Injury-Causing Property Hazard

In the stereotypical case, motor vehicle accident claims are associated with negligent or reckless operation of a vehicle by a driver.  For example, the injured plaintiff may have a legitimate claim to bring against the defendant-driver for distracted driving, or excessive speeding (which caused the accident at-issue).  There are certainly situations that call for unique liabilities, however.

In some cases, you may find yourself in a situation where you have a claim against a property owner or possessor of land.  More specifically, the defendant may have contributed to your injuries by having failed to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition (thereby exposing you to a dangerous condition of their property, or in other words, a hazard), or by failing to warn drivers of latent dangers existing on such property.

Premises Liability Basics

In Arizona, the rules of premises liability are quite simple (and they are readily applied to such defendants in motor vehicle accident scenarios).  Essentially, you may have a claim against the defendant property owner or possessor if the defendant fails to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition, or if the defendant fails to warn or otherwise give notice to premises entrants of non-obvious, dangerous hazards.

All this legal terminology can be fairly confusing to the untrained reader, so for the purpose of clarity, let’s run through a quick and basic example.

Suppose that you are involved in an accident in the parking lot of a major retailer.  You were driving and a non-obvious pit caused your car to fall in and you sustained damages as a result.  Interestingly, however, there were no signs warning of the drop, nor was there any indication of the drop.

You could almost certainly assert that the defendant property owner (or possessor) failed in their duty to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition for visitors in the parking lot — had the defendant corrected the condition (by filling in the pit) or setup cones or other warnings of the hazard, then the defendant would’ve been shielded from liability.  Given these circumstances, however, the defendant is likely to be held liable for your injuries.

Importantly, defendants in Arizona have different duties towards premises entrants depending on the “category” that the entrants fit into.

For example, trespassers are not entitled to sue and recover damages on the basis of premises liability unless the trespasser can show that the defendant was willful or wanton in causing harm.  In the motor vehicle context, this means that if you get lost and end up trespassing on property (and are subsequently injured due to some hazard of the property), you will not be entitled to compensation except in limited circumstances.

By comparison, property owners owe a duty of care to licensee (an invited guest or customer) visitors that requires them to adequately warn such visitors of the concealed dangers on their property, or to correct such hazards.

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you may not be aware that Arizona law entitles you to sue and recover damages from all negligent parties that caused your injuries, not just drivers.  Landowners may also be held liable if some dangerous condition or hazard existing on their property significantly contributed to your injuries.  Pursuing a defendant on the basis of premises liability involves unique litigation challenges.  As such, it’s important that you consult with an experienced Phoenix accident lawyer who has a track record of success in litigating motor vehicle accident claims that involved premises liability issues.

Hirsch & Lyon is a Phoenix-based personal injury firm with a focus on motor vehicle accident claims (car, truck, motorcycle, pedestrian, passenger, etc.).  Our attorneys are therefore well-positioned to litigate your motor vehicle accident claims to the fullest extent.

Call (602) 535-1900 to connect with one of the attorneys here at Hirsch & Lyon.  Initial consultation is free, and we will take the time to assess your claims and determine a path forward to recovery.