Most people are of the mistaken belief that if an injury occurs on someone else’s property that the property owner is responsible for that injury, particularly when that someone else is a business. However, the law in North Carolina actually favors the property owner or business in the vast majority of situations. Here are some of the hurdles that must be 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 there is hidden danger or condition that was either created by the owner, or the owner allowed the condition to exist on the property for an unreasonable amount of time. An example of this is where there is water on the floor in a grocery store. The claimant must be able to prove not only where the water came from, but that the water had been there long enough that the grocery store (through its employees) had an opportunity to remedy the situation. So, if another customer was walking down an aisle in front of you and spilled their drink on the floor, then you came along a few seconds (or possibly even minutes) later and slipped on the liquid and broke your leg, the owner is likely not going to be liable because they did not create the condition and it had only existed for a short period of time prior to your fall and the store did not have an opportunity to not only learn of the spill but also clean it up.
However, even if the water on the floor was caused by a leak from the freezer, 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 this can be shown 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 condition 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, that they should have discovered the leak prior to 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 the claimant should have also seen it prior to slipping in it. If a condition is open and obvious, for example, the liquid on the floor is iced tea or orange juice, then the store is probably not liable.
That brings us to another reason why premises claims are difficult in North Carolina. Contributory Negligence. Even if you can 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, if the liquid is of the size and color that you should have seen it, you still cannot recover.
Premises claims are rife with pitfalls. That is why it’s important 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.