Interviewer: So here’s a common question, unsafe conditions on someone else’s property caused my injury. Do I have a claim?
Attorney Donig: You know, I wish I could answer that with a simple yes or no. I can’t. There are different kinds of things that are unsafe about someone’s condition. The basic rule is, was it an unsafe condition that was reasonably likely to cause the kind of incident that caused your injury? So, if we have a divot, a big divot in somebody’s lawn, it’s foreseeable that someone might not notice it, might step in it, and suffer a fractured ankle, for example. Similarly, you might have a banana peel on somebody’s floor. And that’s also foreseeable injury waiting to happen. But there’s a difference, or possible a difference. That divot in the lawn, presumably, was there for a lengthy period of time, it didn’t just occur. It didn’t just happen and then somebody stepped in it, it was there for a while. That banana peel might have just been dropped a minute earlier by somebody or somebody’s kid.
You have to go beyond just was it a dangerous condition that caused the injury. Then the next question is, did that dangerous condition exist for a lengthy enough or long enough period of time so that the owner exercising reasonable care and reasonable inspections of his property did know about it, or should have known about it? And, if he did, or should have known about it, did he have a reasonable opportunity to fix it, to guard against it, or to warn about it? All of those things need to be established before there’s liability. In other words, do you have a claim? You can always make a claim, but do you have a valid claim? Do you have a good legal claim? You have to establish all of those things before you can establish that you have a good legal claim. That it was a dangerous condition, that the kind of condition reasonably would lead to the kind of incident that happened, that the owner knew, or should have known about it, and had a reasonable opportunity to fix, or correct it, guard against it, or warn about.
Interviewer: And would this apply to government-owned property as well?
Attorney Donig: So, there are special rules that give the government a bit more protection. A condition that might be deemed dangerous if it’s a private property owner would not always qualify as a dangerous condition or something more than a trivial condition as defined in the code and by case law when it comes to the government. But as a general rule, the government does have a duty to not create a dangerous condition and to not allow a dangerous condition that is created by someone else, or that occurs even naturally such as tree roots pushing up sidewalks and creating a very uneven walking surface and a tripping hazard.
They do have a duty to be reasonable in their inspections to carry out reasonable inspections and to see that dangerous conditions are corrected. There are certain conditions that may be dangerous on government-owned property where the government does not have a duty. For example, in design cases, in roadway cases, sometimes the design may be deemed to not been safe enough. But there are certain times when the government doesn’t have to go above and beyond to cure every possible design defect in order to avoid or shield itself from liability. One other point I would make that everyone needs to know. If you do think you have a claim against the government, the statute of limitations, the time periods are not the same as they are for a claim against a private property owner or someone who’s running a business on private property. They are much shorter.