Persons in North Carolina are often injured while on the property of another person. In such a case, the person injured might have a claim against the owner (or another person in control of the property) if the property was defective, or if the owner was negligent in its maintenance of the property. In one such prominent case in North Carolina, a person visited a zoo and sustained serious injury when a tree fell on her. The tree had fallen in the past, and the zoo had failed to take adequate measures to anchor the tree.

These cases can raise complicated issues, including whether the condition at issue was natural or artificial. Also, the person walking on the land is expected to take reasonable care to look out for her own safety; and if she is negligent in causing her injuries, then she cannot recover. Thus, if the condition at issue is “open and obvious,” then normally a person injured by the condition cannot recover.

Premises law is constantly evolving in North Carolina. In a case decided on February 18, 2014, the Court of Appeals held that a plastic base affixed to a driveway was obvious, and a person who tripped over it could not sue the landowner. In a case decided on December 13, 2013, the Court of Appeals ruled that a person who fell in a parking lot did not sufficiently prove that he fell due to the presence of ice, and his case was properly dismissed. Skipper v. Wayne Oil. In a case decided on January 15, 2013, the Court of Appeals ruled that a person injured while walking over logs and other debris could sue the persons in control of the property for injuries he sustained when he fell. The court ruled that even though the condition was open and obvious, he had no alternate route to his destination on the defendant’s property. Overton v. Evans Logging.

In a case decided on December 18, 2012, the court of appeals held that the customer of a hair salon who fell down the stairs could sue the property, where the lighting on the stairs was inadequate. Cone v. Watson.

In a case decided on July 17, 2012, the court of appeals held that a patron at a baseball game who was struck by a “wild pitch” by a pitcher warming up in the bullpen could not sue the owner or operator of the facility. Bryson v. Coastal Plain League.

In a case decided on March 15, 2012, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a landowner does not have a duty to protect occupants of the land from hazards on the adjoining land. In this case, a four-year-old child went through a fence (at her apartment complex) and onto the adjoining property. She went onto a frozen pond, and fell in, sustaining serious injuries. The court held that her claim was properly dismissed because the landowner (apartment complex) did not owe her a duty to protect her from hazards on the adjoining property. Lampkin v. Housing Management Resources.

In a case decided by a federal court (Middle District of North Carolina) on December 5, 2011 (Charran M. Hayes, Plaintiff, v. GGP-Four Seasons, L.L.C., General Growth Properties, Inc., Mydatt Services, Inc. d/b/a Valor Security Services, And The Gap, Inc.), the court dealt with a claim by the Estate of a person shot at a Gap store at a shopping center in Greensboro. The Estate sued the Gap as well as the entities owning the property, alleging that they had failed to take reasonable measures to protect him from the assault. The court focused on the crime statistics in the area to determine whether the defendants had a duty to protect the Plaintiff. The Court reviewed the evidence and concluded, “The evidence of past criminal activity on which Plaintiff relies to establish the foreseeability of his shooting thus consists of 20 total crimes which by definition involve the use (or threatened use) of force against a person (i.e., nine robberies, nine assaults, one aggravated assault, and one homicide) in three years. [These crimes] occurred six to seven times a year at FSTC [the mall], a shopping mall that (according to the Property Profile relied on by Plaintiff) catered to a population-base of 611,700 people and featured 1,141,000 square feet of interior retail space, as well as nearly 6,000 parking spaces.” The court thus essentially held that the level of prior crimes was too low to create in the defendants a duty to foresee crime and to protect the Plaintiff, and the Court therefore entered summary judgment for the defendants.

Persons injured on the land of others often need the assistance of a lawyer to guide them through the claim. The rules regarding the liability of the landowner can be very complicated. The lawyer can also help to document the claim at an early stage, including obtaining photographs and other evidence and contacting witnesses. It is also often important to ensure that the landowner preserves evidence of the incident, such as incident reports, photographs and video footage.

A lengthy Article addressing premises liability law in North Carolina is provided on this website. John Kirby has represented numerous claimants as well as businesses in claims arising from alleged defects in the premises.