Premises liability works on the concept that property owners have a duty of care to those who enter their property. Usually, property owners must provide a safe experience to those legally on the property, whether by invitation or by license, such as a mailman delivering a package. Whenever a property owner fails to uphold this duty of care, he or she may become legally liable for any damages sustained because of that failure.
However, it is possible for property owners to protect themselves from liability in some circumstances. Often, warning signs come to mind to prevent being at fault for damages sustained on one’s property. But how effective are warning signs really?
When Are Warning Signs Necessary?
Warning signs only have an effect if a sign is necessary to protect the well-being of people on the property. The warning signs requirement depends on the legal concept of negligence and defining the standard of care. When it comes to premises liability, property owners must correct risks to people’s safety, or the property owner must put up fair warning that indicates the risk. If the owner can’t correct the issue, he or she must put up a sign.
For example, if a building has a broken staircase that poses a risk to those who uses the stairs, the property owner has a duty of care to repair the damage. However, if the owner delays repairs, he or she would need to put up a sign to warn visitors of the risk.
Warning signs can only affect liability if the property owner has a requirement to put one up. In the above example, since the property owner needs to put a sign up to protect the safety of visitors, then the sign would free the property owner from liability. However, if a property owner puts a warning sign up where there is no legal need for one, then the presence of that sign would have no impact on determining fault whatsoever.
When Can Warning Signs Be Ineffective?
Signs serve to prevent fault from falling on a property owner, because they provide clear warning of the risks of entering property. By reading such a sign and choosing to enter the property or area anyways, the entrant is assuming the risk as listed on the warning sign. For example, if you chose to walk over the area near a wet floor sign in a restaurant, you would be assuming the risk of potentially slipping – and the restaurant wouldn’t be at fault if you fell.
However, signs can fail to affect liability if the sign itself is inadequate. Some situations where the presence of a sign wouldn’t prevent the property owner from being at fault are if:
- The sign was too small, preventing anyone from noticing it before entering the property
- The sign was in an inappropriate location, where not all entrants could see it
- The sign was unreadable or didn’t provide a clear warning
In any of these circumstances, the sign’s presence would not be enough to make people alert to the potential dangers of entering an area, preventing them from making an informed decision to assume the risks. If you are a property owner planning on putting up warning signs, failing to make it noticeable to others can still put you at risk for liability in the event of an accident.
While neither property owners or guests want to consider becoming involved in a premises liability accident, the presence of a warning sign may have an impact on determining liability in a resulting claim. Both parties can benefit from understanding how the presence of a sign can affect such a lawsuit.