To successfully file a personal injury lawsuit against somebody, your attorney will attempt to show that the defendant had a duty of care towards you. Your lawyer will also allege that the defendant neglected this duty of care. In turn, the defendant's attorney will normally try to present evidence that shows he or she was not negligent. Find out how warning signs affect personal injury liability, and learn more about the steps a California lawyer would take to counter this type of evidence.
Negligence and standard of care
In any personal injury lawsuit, the principle that will normally determine liability is negligence. Negligence refers to an act that unintentionally leads to harm or injury because a property owner or occupier did not meet the legal standard of care.
Most courts interpret the legal standard of care as reasonable care. The definition of reasonable care will vary from one situation to another, but the court will often consider the defendant's actions against what a reasonable person would do in the circumstances. The plaintiff doesn't have to prove negligence. He or she simply has to give the court a reasonable argument.
The aim of a warning sign
As the name suggests, a warning sign aims to alert people to a hazard that they may not otherwise notice. This simple preventive safety measure could support a defendant's claim that he or she was not negligent, as the court may decide that displaying the sign was the only reasonable precaution the defendant needed to take.
A property owner may display a temporary or permanent warning sign. For example, it's common practice to put up a yellow 'wet floor' warning sign on a freshly mopped floor. You can remove these signs when the floor is dry. Alternatively, if the floor in a store is permanently uneven, you may cover the area in yellow and black hazard tape and display a permanent warning sign on the wall.
Property entrants and negligence
California uses a principle of ordinary negligence when considering liability. In other states, negligence can vary according to who is on your land. For example, some state laws differentiate between trespassers and invitees because the former group should not normally be on the property owner's premises.
In California, property owners and occupants have a duty to warn anyone entering their land about known hazards that a reasonable person could not expect the entrant to know about. For example, an uneven floor in a shop is a hazard that a reasonable person would not expect to find. A slippery floor in a gym changing room would arguably not fall under this definition, because a reasonable person could expect to find slippery water on the floor in this type of environment.
The effect of warning signs
In California, a warning sign can help a defendant fight a claim that he or she was negligent. By displaying a hazard warning sign, the defendant may argue that he or she took all reasonable steps to warn the entrant of a possible hazard. When the property owner displays a sign in this way, he or she could argue that the entrant assumed the risk when entering the property.
To challenge this claim, your attorney may challenge the effectiveness of the sign. For example, if something obscures the sign or if the sign is too small, your attorney could successfully argue that the warning did not meet its aims. Similarly, the court may agree that a warning sign alone is not enough to meet the reasonable care standard.
For example, if you spill water on the floor, you can't just display a warning sign and then forget about it. A court would almost certainly argue that the warning sign is only a reasonable measure for a fixed period of time. If the property owner then fails to clean up the water within a reasonable period, a court may agree that he or she is still negligent.
A property owner cannot automatically disprove a negligence claim in a personal injury lawsuit simply because he or she displayed a warning sign. Locate an experienced law firm and check it out for more advice and information.