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A WV Premises Liability Attorney: Your Defense Before It's Needed

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Those who own or operate a business in West Virginia have a duty to keep the premises safe for visiting customers and clients. Defensive practices can make your business more welcoming and help avoid claims based on premises liability. In this first of a four-part series, WV premises liability attorney Oscar R. Molina explains some of the "open and obvious" changes in business property personal injury law in the Mountain State.

How a WV Premises Liability Attorney Prepares

To operate, most businesses have clients that visit the premises, whether it's an office, a store, a warehouse, or some other location. Business owners and operators have a duty to keep the locations that their clients or customers visit safe from harm caused by the physical environment, equipment, or other people also on the premises. Working with a WV premises liability attorney can help businesses prevent claims before they happen by educating owners and operators on precautionary steps. And, if a claim is filed, these attorneys can help the business make the most of the defenses available.

Defining Premises Liability

The basic idea of premises liability is this: an owner or occupant of premises owes an "invited person" a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. An "invited person" is any person legitimately on the property. While it may seem obvious that a business would not want hazardous conditions on its property, potential dangers are not always obvious. Understanding the various ways in which a visitor may suffer injury can help you take steps to prevent harm to your clients.

Areas to Watch to Avoid Premises Liability Claims in WV

Being responsible for providing a safe place for clients to visit requires knowing where to look for risks. As mentioned above, the risk of harm to visitors or customers can come from a variety of places:

  •  The physical condition of the building and property;
  •  The condition of equipment used on the premises; and
  •  The risk of harm from employees, other legitimate visitors, or trespassers.

Examples of injuries subject to premises liability claims include these:

  •  Injuries from falls due to slick floors, uneven ground, or unsafe physical conditions inside or outside the building;
  •  Escalator or elevator accidents;
  •  Preventable injuries caused by business employees or others;
  •  Injuries caused by fire;
  •  Injuries caused by flooding or leaks; and
  •  Injuries caused by animals on the premises.

Injuries caused by the physical condition of the building or property are often first to come to mind when thinking about premises liability. A "slip and fall" claim is the quintessential premises liability claim and can be based on a fall inside the business, such as a slip on a wet floor, or on its outside property, such as a fall caused by uneven ground or ice.

In addition to maintaining the business building and outside property, business owners and operators also need to ensure the safety of their customers from injury caused by other people. Through reasonable hiring practices and employee monitoring, businesses should make sure that they do not hire or retain employees they know may cause harm to others.

Types of Damages in Premises Liability Claims

When a business that knowingly permits a dangerous condition to exist and someone legitimately on the property is injured as a result, the injured person may file suit against the business for damages. Businesses found liable for the visitor's injury may be ordered to pay damages to the injured person.

In West Virginia, damages in a civil suit may compensate the injured person for the following types of loss caused by the injury:

  •  Medical bills for treatment of the injury;
  • Pain and suffering;
  •  Mental anguish and emotional distress;
  •  Loss of future earning capacity;
  •  Cognitive impairment;
  •  Loss of quality or enjoyment of life;
  •  Loss of companionship; and
  •  Disfigurement.

Depending on the severity of the injury, the damages may be slight, or they could be significant. In the most serious cases, where the injury resulted in death, the decedent's survivors may file a wrongful death action against the business. In a wrongful death action, damages can include those listed above as well as any of the following:

  •  Funeral and burial expenses;
  •  Compensation for lost wages and benefits the deceased would have earned if he or she had survived; and
  •  Compensation for lost or damaged property.

How the "Open and Obvious" Doctrine Protects Business Owners

In West Virginia, WV Code § 55-7-28 provides a defense to premises liability claims for injuries sustained by open and obvious conditions. In other words, a business is liable for injury only if it was caused by a condition that was not obvious and of which the business was aware. The idea is that the danger is so apparent that visitors enter at their own peril.

While this may appear to decrease the chance of a viable claim against your business, only a WV premises liability attorney can help evaluate your potential exposure.

Keeping in the Know about Personal Injury on Business Property in West Virginia

If you would like more information on how to protect your business from premises liability claims, need help defending against a current claim, or have other needs best served by a WV business law attorney, contact WV premises liability attorney Oscar R. Molina by phone at (304) 523-2100 or (866) 617-4736 or complete Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC's online contact form. You can also follow Oscar Molina on social media here:

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