Businesses and private properties have a variety of liability concerns that they need to insure themselves against, but in some cases, a scenario that seems highly unlikely can prove to be a more than unfortunate set of circumstances should you not take the necessary precautions. Case in point: can you be sued if someone trespasses on your business property and is injured while having done so? Your first instinct may be to assume that the answer is no, but it can be a bit more complicated than that.
While it’s incredibly rare for a trespasser to successfully sue for injury against a property owner, there are some sets of circumstances in which a business or property owner can be held liable for an injury. You are most likely immune from liability unless you have acted violently and aggressively against the intruder and in doing so caused the injury, or you have been grossly negligent. The grossly negligent aspect of this scenario is a bit trickier. Let us assume that you know a certain aspect of your business property is potentially dangerous and likely to cause injury, and you know that trespassers routinely are found on your property, or you expect trespassers (if, for example, a portion of your property is a routine pass-through or congregational spot for vagrancy, etc.) If you know about a serious property hazard and take no steps to post a warning, you could be held liable for injury, even if the person suing was trespassing.
Essentially, when people trespass with some regularity, the business owner may begin to anticipate that trespassing will occur, and must assume that the dangerous conditions could pose safety hazards to people on the property. However, chasing a trespasser off the property is not grounds for liability, and neither is using a reasonable degree of force. What qualifies as reasonable can become an issue though, as with most legal liability determinations. Finally, and this piece is important to remember, using lethal force to persuade a trespasser to leave is not reasonable unless the threat of bodily harm is dire. Clearly then, the business of dealing with trespasser injury can be a bit murky. Chasing a trespasser off your property is not grounds for liability. While trespassers represent a unique liability concern, liability insurance in general is an important aspect of business insurance for more routine scenarios as well. Commercial properties are busy spaces, and taking the proper precautions prevents business owners from being caught unawares. When it comes to injuries on your business property, it depends in large part to who the person is, and what category they fall into. There are typically a variety of types of people in and around any commercial building. Employees, guests of leaseholders, guests of a building owner who are there because it’s a public space- contractors, and a variety of third parties.
Different categories of people on a commercial property becoming injured will fall under different categories of a business insurance policy for claims. For example, if an employee is injured, that would fall under the worker’s compensation policy. Guests of the leaseholders, guests of the building owner, those guests, or third parties, would be covered under the general liability policy of the landlord or the leaseholder. In addition, in those scenarios, there is lease language that indemnifies each other should a situation arise, clarifying which policy would be responsible in a given situation.
To clarify, a Commercial General Liability Policy (CGL) protects your business from the financial loss that you would otherwise incur should you be liable for property damage or personal and advertising injury caused by your services, business operations, or your employees- it covers non-professional negligent acts. For example, if a customer were to come into your business and slip and fall on some loose flooring, causing injury to themselves. Restaurants are frequently targets for slip and fall, with water or other spills a frequent concern. CGL policies are designed to cover the costs of your legal defense, and cover the costs of damages if your business is found liable, up to the limits of your policy. It’s an important component of protecting your business from the negative financial impacts of a liability lawsuit. There are three primary components of coverage: bodily injury and property damage liability, personal and advertising injury, and medical payments. There are other, additional liability coverages that can be considered depending on the type of business you are seeking to insure. For example, establishments such as restaurants and bars, or catering and event locations, may wish to purchase liquor liability insurance, which will be helpful in the event that there is some kind of alcohol-fueled altercation. There are a variety of specifics to consider, so of course consulting with a professional who can help point you in the right direction can prove very useful.
So what about contractors? These are a different category of person on-site for a commercial property. If a contractor or subcontractor performing work on the building is injured in or around the building, the policy that would be attached to that injury would be that contractor’s responsibility. Contractors are responsible for having their own worker’s compensation policies in place- though in some cases they may attempt to sue the landlord of the building for some form of negligence, depending on the circumstances. Who is ultimately liable may be determined by the language in the lease, where the specifics on how to move forward would be found. However, like any other business, contractors, subcontractors, and independent tradesmen should carry their own commercial insurance. This protects them in the event of an injury, and is often a requirement of any landlord or employer who may hire them to do work on a property before allowing them to start work.
Any time someone is injured in a business it’s a stressful event for all involved- from the person who actually suffers the injury to those who may feel responsible for it. However, if the business owner and others have taken the necessary precautions and have appropriate insurance policies in place, the stress associated with who is going to pay, or how it will be paid for can be taken off the table, leaving everyone to focus on the injury at hand, even if the person injured was trespassing.