While getting hurt at home is painful and aggravating, there’s rarely a question of liability (unless you were injured by a defective product or a negligent repair job, which is another matter altogether). But if someone gets hurt another person’s property, there’s an entirely different set of legal considerations for the injury victim. Depending on how, why, and when the accident occurred, the property owner could potentially be liable for compensating the victim for their medical bills and other expenses. In this article, we’ll explain the core components that go into building a strong premises liability claim after you’ve been injured on another person’s property in Pennsylvania.
Legal Deadlines: The Statute of Limitations
The strongest personal injury case in the world is rendered powerless if the plaintiff fails to abide by a deadline called the statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations is a tremendously important legal concept in both civil and criminal law. In criminal cases, the statute of limitations sets a time limit for prosecution of the defendant (with some exceptions for the most serious offenses, like murder and rape). In civil or non-criminal cases – including personal injury cases – the statute of limitations limits how long the plaintiff has to formally bring a complaint.
The legal clock starts ticking the second the victim gets injured – and if the statute of limitations “expires” or elapses before the victim files a claim in court, no judge will hear the case. The claim will be “forever barred” from proceeding through the judiciary, which means the plaintiff will be deprived of both emotional closure and financial compensation.
As you can imagine based on this information, it is extremely important to contact a personal injury lawyer immediately if you have been seriously hurt in an accident. Even if the statute of limitations still has months or years to run before it expires, it’s always best to allow your attorney as much time as possible to build your case. If you wait to seek legal help until the statute is about to expire, your attorney will not have enough time to prepare; so if you’re normally a procrastinator, this is a good time to break the habit.
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations on personal injury claims is two years, beginning the date the injury occurs. The same deadline applies for bringing a wrongful death claim.
There is one exception, usually associated with medical malpractice, known as the “discovery rule.” This rule provides a deadline extension in situations where the true extent of the victim’s injuries was not apparent until the statute of limitations already expired. However, plaintiffs should not rely on the discovery rule for a deadline extension, because it only applies in specific cases.
The Four Components of Negligence
Being injured on another person’s property is not an automatic guarantee of compensation, because in some cases, the property owner simply isn’t to blame. In order for a plaintiff to be awarded compensation, specific components must be in place which prove that the injuries were caused by negligence.
First, the defendant must have owed a “duty of care” to the plaintiff, meaning he or she had a legal responsibility to prevent the plaintiff from befalling harm. For example, the managers of commercial properties are responsible for ensuring their lands and buildings are reasonably free of any foreseeable/existing hazards which could hurt or kill somebody (e.g. fluid leaks, faulty wiring, dead trees, structural defects, and so forth).
Next, the duty of care must have been breached, or violated, in a “material” or significant way. Material breach is sometimes referred to as total breach. (By comparison, immaterial breach is a small deviation which doesn’t result in major negative consequences.)
Third, the breach of duty must have caused the injuries. There are two types of cause: actual cause, and proximate cause. Actual cause is fairly straightforward, referring to pure cause-and-effect – for example, a cut is directly caused by a knife. Proximate cause is more complex, because it takes into consideration the underlying factors which led to the accident occurring.
Finally, there must have been damages to the victim. Damages can be physical (like an injury), financial (like loss of income), and/or emotional (like trauma caused by witnessing a loved one’s death).
If you were hurt on someone else’s property in Philadelphia, you may be entitled to compensation to help with your medical expenses, loss of income, care services you had to hire, and other costs related to your injuries. To talk about your accident and start exploring your legal options in a free and private case evaluation, call attorney Brent Wieand at (800) 481-5206 today. Don’t hesitate to call during nights or weekends – our line is always open.