"Premises liability" is a legal tool that holds property owners and tenants legally answerable for accidents that take place on the property they control. Examples of typical premises liability cases are slip and fall accidents, or dog bites that occur inside a neighbor’s home. Damages are available in these types of cases when the owner or tenant allowed an unreasonably dangerous condition to exist on the property, and that condition caused an injury to another. In most states, the duty to keep one’s property in a reasonably safe condition arises from both statutory and common law. The statutes and cases have shaped the degree of care necessary, based on four factors:

1. The foreseeability that the way the property is being used could result in injury;
2. The probability that an injury will occur;
3. The ability of the owner or tenant to fix the danger or warn against it;
4. The economic consequences of requiring the defendant to do so.

In most jurisdictions, the extent of a negligent owner's liability will also depend on the status of the person injured. There are three types of plaintiff's in this analysis: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. An invitee is a person who is encouraged to enter and remain on the premises for the benefit of the owner or occupier. Typically, this means they are a customer or a client of a business, although this is not necessary. Anyone whose presence on the property is for the purpose of a direct, indirect, or potential commercial benefit to the owner is an invitee. Owner/occupiers owe these individuals the highest level of care, meaning they must protect or warn of danger in situations where a) the risk of harm is unreasonable and b) the owner/occupier knows or should know of the condition and of the risk it presents.

Licensees are the second type of possible plaintiff in premises liability cases. A licensee is any person who is invited or allowed onto the property, but not necessarily for the benefit of the owner. Although it is counter intuitive, a social guest is considered a licensee, not an invitee. Owner/occupiers owe these individuals a duty of care, but not as high as that of an invitee. The standard for a licensee-plaintiff to recover in a lawsuit is that the owner a) knew or should have known of a dangerous condition on the property, b) knew or should have known that a guest would not reasonably have been able to appreciate or discover the danger on his own, c) the owner/occupier failed to warn the licensee of the danger or take reasonable steps to prevent the accident, and d) the licensee did not in fact know or have reason to suspect the risk involved.

The third possible type of plaintiff in these cases is a trespasser. A trespasser is a person who enters onto another's property uninvited, for his or her own benefit. In most states, if an owner/occupier was not aware of or suspect the presence of the trespasser, no duty of care is owed. In some states, if the owner/occupier is aware of the presence of the trespasser, they are required to take ordinary care to prevent them from getting hurt. In other states, no duty at all is required.

Many states also make a fourth, related distinction when the trespasser is a child. In that instance, the general rule is that an owner/occupier must attempt to warn children if he knows (or should know) that they are likely to trespass on the premises and encounter a dangerous condition. If a child does get injured while trespassing, the landowner can be held responsible if the following elements can be shown:

1. The owner/tenant knew or should have known that children frequented the property or were likely to trespass;
2. There was a structure or activity on the premises that was dangerous to children because it presented a risk of harm that children generally are incapable of appreciating.
3. The expense or inconvenience to the defendant in protecting children would be slight in comparison to the risk of harm.

It is common in premises liability cases for defendants to argue that they should not be held liable because the injured party was also to blame for the incident. The law does require that individuals exercise reasonable judgment and take precautions for their own safety, and a plaintiff who fails to do so may have his or her recovery reduced or barred. Many jurisdictions use what is referred to as a “comparative fault” system in all personal injury cases. This means that if a jury finds that the plaintiff was at all responsible for his or her own injury, their recovery will be reduced by their percentage of fault. For instance, if a plaintiff sustains $9,000 in damages but is found to be 33 percent responsible, they will only recover $6,000.

In order to win a lawsuit for premises liability, a plaintiff must establish:

1. There was a condition of the defendant’s property that presented an unreasonable risk of harm to persons on the premises.
2. The defendant knew or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known that thecondition of his or her property involved an unreasonable risk of harm to persons on thepremises.
3. The defendant should have anticipated that persons on the premises would not discover or realize the danger, or would otherwise fail to protect themselves against it.
4. The defendant acted or failed to act in one or more of the ways that, in so acting, or failing to act, the defendant was negligent.
5. The plaintiff was injured.
6. Condition of the defendant’s property was a proximate cause of the injury to the plaintiff.