What Is Premises Liability?

What is premises liability? Premises liability is a legal concept that holds property owners and occupiers responsible for accidents and injuries that occur on the property due to unsafe conditions. The liability typically hinges on the property owner’s duty to maintain a reasonably safe environment for visitors. In Illinois, premises liability is a critical area of personal injury law, governed by a combination of statutes and case law that outline the responsibilities of property owners and the rights of injured parties.

Did a negligent property owner cause your injuries? Call Chute, O’Malley, Knobloch, & Turcy, LLC in Naperville to start your case review. 312-775-0042.

Key Concepts of Premises Liability Lawsuits

When visitors are injured by a hazard on a property, they have the opportunity to recover the costs of their injury through a premises liability lawsuit. These lawsuits fall under personal injury laws and, therefore, are governed by the key concepts of negligence in tort law. When determining whether you have a premises liability case, the following elements should be considered:

Duty of Care

The foundation of premises liability is the duty of care that property owners owe to visitors. This duty varies depending on the visitor’s status. Categories of visitors under premises liability laws include:

  • Invitees: These are individuals who enter the property for the benefit of the owner, such as customers in a store. Property owners owe the highest duty of care to invitees, which includes regularly inspecting the property for hazards, repairing dangerous conditions, and warning of known dangers.
  • Licensees: These are individuals who enter the property for their own benefit or as social guests. Property owners must warn licensees of known dangers that are not obvious.
  • Trespassers: These are individuals who enter the property without permission. Generally, property owners owe no duty of care to trespassers, except in cases where the owner knows of frequent trespassing or if the trespasser is a child (under the attractive nuisance doctrine).

The duty of care affords property owners with a variety of responsibilities. Primarily, however, they must keep their property free of hazards that carry the potential to cause injuries. If they cannot rectify a hazard within a reasonable amount of time, they have a duty to warn visitors of the hazards through proper signage and notices. 

Breach of Duty

To establish a premises liability claim, the injured party must show that the property owner breached his or her duty of care. This breach could involve failing to maintain the property, not fixing hazards, or not providing adequate warnings of dangers. In cases involving child trespassers, breach of duty could simply be the failure to take reasonable measures to prevent accidents, such as failing to fence in a swimming pool. 


It isn’t enough for a dangerous condition to simply exist on a property. Instead, a visitor must have sustained an injury, Additionally, the injured party must demonstrate that the breach of duty directly caused his or her injury. This means showing that the unsafe condition was a contributing factor in causing harm.


A lawsuit does not exist if the injured party sustained no losses resulting from the accident. The injured party must prove that he or she suffered actual damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, or pain and suffering, due to the injury.

Illinois Premises Liability Laws

In Illinois, premises liability is influenced by several statutes and principles derived from case law.

Illinois Premises Liability Act

The Illinois Premises Liability Act is the primary statute governing premises liability in the state. The Act consolidates common law principles and outlines the duties owed to different types of visitors. Key provisions of the Act include:

  • Duty to Maintain Safe Premises: Property owners must exercise reasonable care in maintaining their property to prevent injury to lawful visitors.
  • Protection for Invitees and Licensees: The Act generally extends protection to both invitees and licensees, requiring property owners to address known hazards and warn of any dangerous conditions.
  • No Duty to Trespassers: The Act stipulates that property owners owe no duty of care to trespassers, except in specific circumstances, such as when children are involved.

Case Law

Illinois case law further refines the application of premises liability principles. These judicial decisions interpret and expand on statutory requirements, providing guidance on how the law is applied in specific circumstances. Notable cases such as shape the legal landscape by clarifying property owner duties and visitor rights.

Statutes of Limitations

In Illinois, the statute of limitations for premises liability cases is generally two years from the date of the injury. This time limit means that an injured party must file a lawsuit within two years of the incident that caused the injury. Failure to do so typically results in the loss of the right to pursue legal action. However, there are exceptions and circumstances that may alter this timeframe, so it’s crucial to consult with a premises liability lawyer.

Types of Premises Liability Cases in Illinois

Premises liability can arise in various situations, each with unique considerations under Illinois law. However, there are several common types of accidents that frequently arise in premises liability cases.

Slip and Fall Accidents

Slip and fall accidents are among the most common premises liability claims. Property owners must ensure that walkways are free of hazards such as wet floors, uneven surfaces, or obstacles. In Illinois, to prove liability in a slip and fall case, the injured party must show that the owner knew or should have known about the hazardous condition and failed to address it.

Snow and Ice Accumulation

Illinois follows the “natural accumulation” rule, which generally holds that property owners are not liable for injuries caused by natural accumulations of snow and ice. However, if the property owner creates an unnatural accumulation through negligence, such as by improper shoveling or plowing, he or she may be held liable.

Defective Conditions

Premises liability also covers injuries caused by defective conditions on the property, such as broken stairs, faulty handrails, or poorly maintained equipment. Property owners must regularly inspect and repair such defects to prevent injuries.

Negligent Security

In cases where criminal activity results in injury, property owners may be held liable if they failed to provide adequate security. This could include insufficient lighting, lack of security personnel, or failure to repair broken locks. The injured party must show that the owner knew or should have known about the risk of criminal activity and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent it.

Animal Attacks

Property owners can be held liable for injuries caused by animals on their property. Under the Illinois Animal Control Act, owners are strictly liable for injuries caused by their animals if the victim was lawfully on the property and did not provoke the animal.

Common Defenses in Premises Liability Cases

Preparing a strong premises liability case doesn’t just rely on evidence. Anticipating the defense’s strategies can help your attorney draft counterarguments to circumvent their tactics. Property owners often take one of several common defenses in premises liability cases:

Comparative Negligence

Illinois follows a modified comparative negligence rule, which allows for the reduction of damages based on the injured party’s percentage of fault. If the injured party is found to be more than 50% at fault, he or she cannot recover any damages.

Open and Obvious Doctrine

Property owners may argue that the hazardous condition was open and obvious, meaning a reasonable person would have noticed and avoided it. If the hazard is deemed open and obvious, the owner may not be liable for injuries.

Assumption of Risk

If the injured party knowingly exposed themselves to a dangerous condition, the property owner may claim that the injured party assumed the risk of injury. This defense is more commonly applied in cases involving recreational activities.

Lack of Notice

Property owners can also defend themselves by demonstrating that they had no notice of the hazardous condition. This defense is particularly relevant in slip and fall cases, where the owner must have known or should have known about the hazard.

Property Owner Responsibilities in Illinois

To minimize the risk of premises liability claims, property owners in Illinois should take proactive measures:

  • Regular Inspections: Conduct routine inspections of the property to identify and address hazards.
  • Prompt Repairs: Repair defective conditions promptly and keep records of maintenance activities.
  • Adequate Warnings: Post clear warnings about known hazards, especially if immediate repairs are not possible.
  • Security Measures: Implement appropriate security measures to protect visitors from criminal activity.
  • Snow and Ice Management: Develop a plan for managing snow and ice accumulation, including proper shoveling and salting techniques.

Premises liability is a crucial aspect of personal injury law in Illinois, designed to ensure that property owners maintain safe environments for visitors. The Illinois Premises Liability Act and relevant case law provide a framework for determining the duties of property owners and the rights of injured parties. By understanding these legal principles and taking proactive steps to address hazards, property owners can reduce the risk of premises liability claims and promote a safer environment for everyone.

Did you sustain injuries caused by a hazardous condition? Call Chute, O’Malley, Knobloch & Turcy, LLC.  312-775-0042 to review your case today.