3 key aspects of premises liability lawsuits in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanians filing a premises liability suit should understand the concepts of strict liability vs. negligence and the statute of limitations.

In 2013, a Pennsylvania district judge listened to a lawsuit in which a woman claimed she injured her knee after slipping on a puddle in a Target store. According to PennRecord.com, a common pleas court jury initially awarded the woman $135,000, but that decision was reversed at an appeals panel.

The district judge granted Target a summary judgment, finding that the store's employees did not know about the spill before the incident occurred. In order to prove negligence, the plaintiff would have had to demonstrate that staff knew about it and had a chance the remedy the situation. The case illustrates one of several key points that must be made in a Pennsylvania premises liability lawsuit.

1. Strict liability vs. negligence

There are two ways a plaintiff could recover damages through a premises liability lawsuit. The first is to cite strict liability, which applies to incidents that would involve a condition that is abnormally or inherently dangerous. In these cases, there is no need to demonstrate that the property owner breached his or her duty of care to the injured. For example, a property owner who has an exceptionally dangerous animal in a home may be sued under strict liability in the event of an attack.

The second type of lawsuit cites negligence, as the above case against Target attempted to do. To succeed with this type of case, the plaintiff will have to show the following:

  • That the property owner had a duty of care to the injured
  • That the owner knew about or should have known about the dangerous property condition
  • That the property owner failed to remedy the dangerous condition if he or she knew about it
  • That the breach of duty directly caused the injury

It is important to point out that in either of these cases, Pennsylvania law typically does not extend protection to people who are trespassing. The exception to this applies to minor children who are injured due to a hazardous condition that the property owner knew about and knew would attract children, such as a swimming pool.

2. Comparative negligence

Like many other states, Pennsylvania uses a comparative negligence model when determining who is to blame for an incident of negligence as well as how damages may be awarded. Under the law, a plaintiff will only be compensated if he or she is not more to blame for the event than the defendant.

Additionally, if the plaintiff is found to be partially responsible, his or her award will be reduced by an amount proportionate to his or her blame. For example, if a jury determines that the plaintiff was 10 percent responsible, the award would be reduced by 10 percent.

3. Statute of limitations

Pennsylvania law states that anyone who wishes to initiate a premises liability claim has two years from the date of the incident to do so. Failing to file a lawsuit within that time frame could mean sacrificing the right to recover damages.

Premises liability lawsuits in Pennsylvania can become complex, which is why anyone considering filing a claim should work with experienced attorneys.