Is Premises Liability The Same As Negligence?

Ward and Smith, P.A.


Ward and Smith, P.A. is the successor to a practice founded in 1895.  Our core values of client satisfaction, reliability, responsiveness, and teamwork are the standards that define who we are as a law firm.  We are an established legal network with offices located in Asheville, Greenville, New Bern, Raleigh, and Wilmington. 
In today's world, we travel all the time. We shop at grocery stores and department stores, we take walks on the sidewalks in our neighborhoods, and we go to large events, such as concerts or weddings, at various venues.
United States Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
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In today's world, we travel all the time. We shop at grocery stores and department stores, we take walks on the sidewalks in our neighborhoods, and we go to large events, such as concerts or weddings, at various venues. But what happens when a condition on someone else's property injures you or a loved one?

A premises liability claim arises when someone is injured on another person's property. These claims are personal injury claims. Just like many personal injury claims, a premises liability claim is rooted in principles of negligence: whether the property owner, occupier, or manager had a legal duty to the injured party and whether the property owner, occupier, or manager breached that duty.

A premises liability claim can arise in many different settings. And each setting may result in a different analysis, depending on the location, the parties, and the law. We outline some common premises liability claims below:

"Slip-and-Fall" or "Trip-and-Fall" Claims

This is the "typical" premises liability claim that comes to mind: injuries in restaurants, grocery stores, warehouses, or shopping centers. If you or a loved one is injured because of a dangerous condition on someone else's property, the property owner may be liable for the injuries. Whether the injuries were caused by liquids puddled on a grocery store's floor or piles of debris in a commercial warehouse, you may have a claim against the property owner. Commercial property owners and managers have legal obligations to make reasonable efforts to keep their premises safe.

However, these claims can be complicated. For example, if a store leases property and someone else own the property, you may have a valid claim against the store, the property owner, or both. To prevail on a premises liability claim, you must show that the property owner was negligent in taking care of and maintaining the property. For example, if a store's employees know or should know that a dangerous condition exists, they fail to fix the condition, and they fail to warn visitors about the condition, the store may be liable for the injuries that condition causes. Therefore, you must conduct a thorough investigation of the facts leading up to the incident. Some important facts include how long the dangerous condition was present, whether employees were aware of the condition, and whether the landowner has engaged in a similar pattern of behavior. Additionally, it is important to research and investigate any applicable safety laws, including, for example, regulations on building codes, stairwells, and sidewalks.

In a premises liability case, landowners may raise affirmative defenses. North Carolina is a contributory negligence state. Therefore, if an injured party is even slightly at fault for his or her injuries, contributory negligence may bar the premises liability claim. Another common defense to a premises liability claim is an "open and obvious danger." If the condition on the property that harmed the visitor was open and obvious (or clearly visible) to the visitor, he or she may be barred from recovery.

Dog Bite Claims

If a dog attacks and bites you or a loved one, the experience can be extremely traumatizing. However, whether a dog's owner is liable for the attack depends on whether the owner was on notice that the dog was a "potentially dangerous" dog. To show that the dog was "potentially dangerous," you likely need evidence showing that the dog had engaged in prior instances of biting or vicious behavior. The dog's breed may also play a role in the analysis. Further, there may be more than one person liable for your injuries. For example, if the dog's owner is renting a property and living there with the dog, the owner of the rental property may be liable for the dog's attack if you can show that the owner knew of the dog's prior violent actions. If a person with control over a dog, even if they are not the owner of the dog, knows of the dog's prior violent acts, that person may also be liable. Depending on where the attack occurred, the town or city may have strict ordinances requiring leashes or total control over pets, and violations of these laws may constitute negligence per se. Therefore, it is important to investigate the breed of the dog, the owner of the dog, the person in control of the dog, and the property on which the attack occurred.

Dram Shop Claims

Under North Carolina law, establishments cannot serve alcohol to a customer if they know or reasonably should know the customer is intoxicated. Therefore, if an intoxicated person injures you or a loved one, the person or entity who served alcohol to the intoxicated individual may be liable for the injuries. For example, if an intoxicated patron is overserved at a bar and assaults you at the bar or injures you in a car wreck, the bar may be liable.

These cases are extremely complex. To prevail on a dram shop claim, you must show that the establishment or its employee knowingly served the intoxicated person. Gathering evidence is crucial, including any surveillance video footage, receipts, witness statements, and police reports. Further, there might be multiple parties liable for the intoxication. For example, an intoxicated person may have been served to the point of intoxication at one bar, left, and continued to be serve at another restaurant (making both establishments potentially liable). Like any personal injury case, it is important to investigate all potential sources of liability.

Inadequate Security Claims

In some cases, a landowner may be liable for intentional or criminal acts of third parties. Under North Carolina law, property owners have a basic legal responsibility to keep customers and visitors reasonably safe. If property owners fail to provide adequate security to their guests or fail to take the necessary precautions to protect visitors on their property, they may be liable for resulting injuries. Depending on the type of property, a landowner's duties may vary. It is important to investigate the type of venue (a large nightclub that provides alcohol versus a local giftshop), as well as any notice of prior criminal activity and any the steps a landowner took to safeguard visitors.


When a landowner fails to exercise reasonable care and another party is injured as a result, a claim for premises liability may arise. If you or a loved one is injured under these circumstances, it is important to involve an experienced, committed attorney to protect your rights, help navigate all potential insurance and liability issues, and guide you through the legal process.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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