Who Can I Sue if I am Injured on Someone Else’s Property in Virginia?

By Peter DePaolis

Typically, you can sue the landowner if you get hurt on someone else’s property in Virginia, but you will have to prove multiple factors if you want to win your case. Also, you will have to show that you were not responsible for your injuries.

Personal injury cases in Virginia are particularly challenging because of the contributory negligence rule. A Virginia personal injury attorney can build a case to counter the defenses of the landowner’s insurance company in many situations. 

What You Have to Prove to Win a Premises Liability Case in Virginia

Premises liability is the term for lawsuits that arise when someone gets injured on someone else’s property. The mere fact that you get hurt on someone else’s premises does not guarantee that they will have to pay you money for your wounds. You will have to show that you got hurt because of the negligence of the property owner.

We will have to prove these four factors to establish liability on the part of the landowner:

  • The owner had a legal duty toward you. The legal duty will depend on whether you were an invitee, licensee, or a trespasser. Let’s say that you were a customer at a grocery store. The store will have a duty of reasonable care to correct or at least warn you about known hazards on the property.
  • The property owner breached that legal duty. Breach of a legal duty is negligence. Someone dropped a pickle jar in one of the aisles. Although customers complained about the broken glass and spilled liquid on the floor, the manager did nothing about it for more than three hours, until someone got hurt.
  • The careless conduct caused your injuries. You did not see the spill and broken glass because of the lighting and the pattern of the floor’s surface. The spill had been present for several hours when you slipped on the slick surface and landed hard on the floor. 
  • You have quantifiable damages. You suffered multiple fractures in your leg from landing on the floor and severe lacerations from the broken glass. Physical wounds satisfy the requirement of measurable losses.

When we can prove these four elements of liability, we can pursue a claim for compensation against the store.

What Are Invitees, Licensees, and Trespassers, and Why Does This Matter?

As one might assume, a property owner has a lesser duty toward a trespasser than toward other visitors to the property. The landowner usually has no duty of care toward a trespasser except to refrain from intentional harm. The landowner receives no benefit from the presence of a trespasser and gives no permission to them.

The two other categories, invitee and licensee, get some protection under Virginia law. Most people who visit other people’s property are invitees. They have permission from the owner, express or implied, to be on the property. As in the case of the grocery store, the owner receives a benefit from the person being on the property.

Property owners have a duty of reasonable care toward invitees to correct known dangers on the property or post sufficient warnings. Licensees are people who are not trespassing, but the owner receives no direct benefit from the person being on the property. A person who goes into a store to use the bathroom but not to buy anything is an example of a licensee. The property owner has a limited duty of care toward licenses, merely to warn about hazards on the property.

How Contributory Fault Works in Virginia

Our state follows the rule of contributory fault in negligence cases. If the plaintiff in a personal injury case was even 1% negligent, our state law will bar the person from getting any financial compensation from the person who was the primary source of fault. Defense attorneys often claim that the defect was open and obvious, so the plaintiff must have been careless to get hurt.

A Virginia personal injury attorney can advocate for you and attack the property owner’s allegations of contributory negligence. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.