One common cause of injury is an accident on someone else’s property. When the injury is a result of the property owner’s failure to take reasonable care of the property, the injured party can sue the property owner for premise liability. The most typical types of premise liability cases involve slipping and falling, dog bites and other animal attacks, insufficient security, and workplace or construction injuries. How liable a property owner is for an injury depends upon the nature of the injured party’s visit to the property. If the injured party were simply a guest invited over for the evening, he or she would be considered a licensee. In the case of a licensee, the property owner has a duty to warn about conditions on the property that the owner knows are harmful. If the injured party were there for a business purpose, or because the property was opened to the public, he or she would be considered an invitee. For an invitee, the property owner has the strictest responsibility: he or she must warn of hazards that the property owner either knew about or should have known about. Not only are property owners bound by these duties, but so are property possessors.
A recent case involving a Hurricane, West Virginia woman and Walmart is one of an invitee being injured on the premises. Back in July 2011, Roberta Marazo was shopping at a local Walmart when she tripped over a protruding pallet and fell to the floor. Marazo claims that as a result, she suffered serious injuries to her face, back, and neck. She has gone ahead and sued Walmart for negligence, claiming that the company failed to properly warn her about the fall hazard presented by the protruding pallet. For instance, there were no signs warning of the potential risk. Marazo seeks both compensatory damages (money to compensate for specific losses) and punitive damages. Her case will soon go before a circuit court judge.
If Marazo can successfully make the case that Walmart did not properly warn of the pallet, then Walmart would be liable for her injury, because as the possessor of the property, Walmart had a duty to warn of hazards that were both known and should have known. However, Walmart might try to argue that no one would reasonably believe that a pallet could be a tripping hazard, and that of all of the people who had visited Walmart stores, Marazo was the very first to have a problem. Even if Walmart makes this argument, it might be difficult for the company to succeed. Nonetheless, even if Marazo is successful in her suit, she might have trouble collecting punitive damages. In West Virginia, for a plaintiff to receive punitive damages, he or she must prove that the defendant acted maliciously, intentionally, and wantonly, and displayed criminal indifference to the defendant’s obligations. Whatever Walmart’s failures, it is unlikely that the employees who set up the pallet acted maliciously or intentionally, or with criminal indifference.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, do not hesitate to hire an experienced West Virginia premise liability attorney who can help you investigate the cause and get you the relief that you deserve.