Summertime. Time to watch a ballgame, take a walk in the park or a swim in the lake. Most of these activities can be enjoyed on public parks and on public lands. Unfortunately, sometimes visitors to these areas suffer injuries while engaging in these common summertime activities. If an injury was caused by a dangerous condition on the property, how does an injured victim overcome sovereign, local and the recreational use of land and water immunities afforded governmental entities to successfully make a claim for damages? If injured on property owned by a local or state agency, proving negligence and recovering damages is truly an uphill battle.
Under well-established principles of Pennsylvania law, an injured person seeking to recover damages from an occupier or owner of land must prove more than the mere occurrence of a slip, trip, fall or other infliction of an injury on the property. (See Pascarella v. Kelley, 105 A.2d 70 (1954); Lear v. Shirk's Motor Express, 152 A.2d 883 (1959).) Just because an accident happens on a premises does not mean negligence can be inferred therefrom. (See Smith v. Bell Telephone, 153 A.2d 477 (1959).) This article addresses the law only as it applies to those who have been invited onto land or who have a right to be on the premises simply as members of the public. Generally speaking, a possessor of land is subject to liability for injury caused to invitees by a condition on the land if he or she knows, or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover, the condition and should realize it poses an unreasonable risk of harm and he or she should expect that the invitee will not discover or realize the danger, or fail to protect himself or herself against it and fails to exercise reasonable care to protect the invitee from the danger. (See Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 343.) In practice, this translates into proving the possessor knew or should have known that a dangerous condition was present on the land and that it failed to do anything to protect its guest from the hazard. Essentially, the law imposes a duty of inspection on the possessor to discover and/or prevent hazards that his or her invitee would not reasonably expect to encounter or reasonably be able to discover. (See Crotty v. Reading Industries, 345 A.2d 259 (Pa. Super. 1975).) Thus, an owner or occupier of land cannot simply bury his or her head in the sand and do nothing to inspect the property.
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