If you have been injured on someone’s unsafe property, you may have a claim to recover damages. The body of law that governs such claims in West Virginia is known as premises liability law and governs the legal responsibilities of property owners and occupiers to prevent injuries to persons on another’s property. West Virginia premises liability laws applies a standard of care that requires a property owner to regularly inspect the property to identify dangerous conditions and either repair them or post warnings as appropriate. Employers, who are also property owners also have a duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work and to maintain the workplace in a reasonably safe condition.
A number of premises liability cases center on the issue of when a dangerous condition arose, and whether the property owner had a reasonable opportunity to correct the hazard before someone got hurt. Liability for the injuries can attach to the owner or occupier of the property where that owner/occupier had a reasonable period of time in which to discover and/or correct the dangerous condition but failed to do so. The issue of what constitutes a reasonable period varies and is determined on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, consideration is also given to the injured party’s actions and whether the injured person acted carelessly in a way that caused them harm. The court must assess all the facts and apply legal principles to decide whether liability lies with the defendant or the plaintiff in a premises liability case. One principle employed in West Virginia for determining whether an injured party can recover damages is the “open and obvious” hazards doctrine. This doctrine holds that a property owner is not responsible when a visitor on the property encounters an open, obvious and reasonably apparent danger, because the appearance of an obvious hazard gives notice to a reasonable person to proceed at his or her own risk. If that person chooses to ignore obvious danger, then fault lies with the visitor who assumed the risk and not with the owner/occupier of the property.
The open and obvious doctrine operates as an absolute bar to recovering damages. In other words, if the hazard was open and obvious, the injured party cannot recover, regardless of how much or how little they may have been at fault for their injuries. The open and obvious doctrine has had a storied history in West Virginia, being abolished by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 2013, before being restored by the West Virginia legislature in 2015. The current law on open and obvious can be found in West Virginia Code §55-7-27, which reads, in pertinent part:
(a) A possessor of real property, including an owner, lessee or other lawful occupant, owes no duty of care to protect others against dangers that are open, obvious, reasonably apparent or as well known to the person injured as they are to the owner or occupant, and shall not be held liable for civil damages for any injuries sustained as a result of such dangers.
The effect of this law is that West Virginia property owners/occupiers are only liable when a hazard that is not apparent to a guest but should have been known to the owner causes an injury.
If you have been injured on the premises of another, it is important that you contact an experienced attorney who understands the law and its potential impacts on your claim right away to explore your rights.
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