Most people mistakenly believe that if an injury occurs on someone else’s property, the property owner is responsible for that injury, particularly when someone else is a business. However, the law in North Carolina actually favors the property owner or business in most situations. Here are some of the hurdles to overcome to prevail in a premises liability claim in North Carolina.
The business or property owner (herein, owner) may only be liable in situations where the owner creates or hides a danger or condition, or the owner allowed the condition to exist on the property for an unreasonable amount of time.
For example, suppose you slip on a water spill on a grocery store floor. In that case, you must prove where the water came from and that it had been there long enough that the grocery store (through its employees) had an opportunity to remedy the situation. If another customer walks down an aisle in front of you and spills their drink on the floor, then a few seconds or minutes later, you slip on the liquid and break your leg, the store’s owner is unlikely to be liable because they did not create the condition. It had only existed for a short period before your fall, and the store did not have an opportunity to learn of the spill and clean it up.
However, even if a leak from the freezer caused the water on the floor, unless you can show how long the leak existed and that the store knew, or reasonably should have known that the freezer was leaking, the store probably will not be liable. One way we can show this is through statements of employees. If an employee comes to your aid and says, “oh my goodness, I’ve been telling our manager that she needs to get this fixed,” that may show that the store had actual notice of the dangerous condition.
Another way to show that the condition may have existed for a sufficient amount of time so that the store is on constructive notice of the dangerous situation is the dimensions of the puddle. If the freezer had been leaking so long that the puddle was several feet wide, there is an argument that if the store had done reasonable inspections of their aisles, they should have discovered the leak before the fall. Of course, if the water on the floor is big enough to potentially put the owner on notice, then at least arguably, it is big enough that you should have also seen it before slipping in it. If a condition is open and obvious, for example, the liquid on the floor is iced tea or orange juice, the store is probably not liable.
That brings us to another reason why premises claims are complex in North Carolina. Contributory Negligence. You not only have to get past the initial hurdles and establish that the owner either created a hidden and dangerous condition or allowed it to exist for an unreasonable amount of time after being on notice (either actual or constructive). You then have to show that the condition was not open and obvious.
In North Carolina, you are bound by the reasonable person standard, and you have a duty to see what should be seen as you go about your everyday life tasks. Therefore, even if that same spill has been there for days, you still cannot recover if the liquid is of the size and color you should have seen.
Premises claims are rife with pitfalls. That is why it’s essential to have an attorney, like the experienced ones at the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor, PC, on your side before you give any statements to any store employees or insurance companies.