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What Constitutes Property Negligence?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 16, 2024
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In law, negligence is a tort characterized by the failure to act to the standards a reasonable person would consider acceptable in any given situation. Negligence cases arise any time someone is accused of failing to act reasonably, be it as a driver of a car, a parent of a child, or a property owner. Property negligence is concerned specifically with property ownership. The law of property negligence seeks to enforce reasonable standards of care and upkeep on property owners, and punishes those who permit dangerous or hazardous conditions. The specifics of what constitutes property negligence varies by jurisdiction, but in general, failing to maintain property — or maintaining property below recognized community or industry standards — can amount to punishable negligence.

There are many types of negligence claims, and the contours of property negligence are as varied as the types of property that can be implicated. The central tenet of negligence law is that a person failed to act in the way that a reasonable person would have in the same circumstances. With property, negligence usually relates to upkeep. If a reasonable person would get the brakes on his car inspected every year, for instance, failing to do that could be considered negligence. Similarly, if a reasonable property owner would consult local safety guidelines for the appropriate pitch of stairs, a shopkeeper who nonetheless builds stairs that are much steeper or narrower than the guidelines dictate could be found to be negligent.

Most property negligence cases arise after someone has been hurt. If a person is injured on another’s property, he may try to sue the property owner for damages, including any medical bills related to the accident. Lawsuits like this can involve a variety of claims, but usually center around negligence.

A negligence lawyer representing a client in a property negligence case strives to ascertain what caused the accident, and then tries to convince a court that the accident would not have happened but for the property owner’s negligence. A backyard swimming pool that was left uncovered, an icy sidewalk that was not properly salted, and a store aisle that was too crowded are examples of negligence theories that could be used against a property owner.

Preventing property negligence is typically easier than preventing property negligence lawsuits. Negligence lawsuits are frequently brought, but do not always enjoy a high rate of success. Convincing a court that negligence caused an accident usually requires hard evidence not just that conditions were dangerous, but they were dangerous because the property owner failed to do something that he should have known to do. A great many personal injury accidents happen simply out of carelessness. Carelessness does not usually rise to the level of negligence.

The best thing that a property owner can do to minimize the chance that he will be sued for negligence is to understand the governing standards of care. Most of the time, these standards are codified in building codes and public safety laws, or are generally accepted practices that a savvy business owner or community member would know. Consulting with a lawyer who specializes in property law before any lawsuits have been filed is a good way to ascertain whether any aspect of a property needs to be improved or corrected, and can also prevent people from getting hurt on the premises.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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