Mississippi Debating a Bill to Limit the Liability of Property Owners for Unsafe PropertiesThe Sun Herald reported in February 2019, that a bill proposed by State Senator Josh Harkins was approved by a vote of 32-17. A similar bill is now for the Mississippi House of Representatives. The bill proposes two changes to current premises liability laws that attorneys and public safety advocates claim would hurt tenants, customers, and others.

Liability only for actual knowledge

The first change would limit liability to those cases where the property owner knew about the possible harm and let it occur. Current law provides that property owners are liable if they knew or had reason to know that their property was dangerous. In many cases, it is extremely difficult to show a property owner had actual knowledge of a problem. It is more common to show that the property owner should have known of a property defect.

A main reason for the “reason to know” provision is that it supposedly forces the property owners to make routine inspections of their property. The provision forces property owners to hire maintenance crews and others who understand what problems such as loose stairwells, unsafe security, and broken tiles should be examined. If the sole criteria for liability is that the property owner had to know of a defect, the bill would encourage property owners to turn a blind eye to many problems that could be corrected – with minimal cost and minimal time.

The story quoted Sen. Hob Bryan (D- Amory), an attorney, who gave the following scenario as an example of the proposed law’s danger: “If I own a nightclub … I have no civil liability for a crime that occurs in my parking lot unless basically I went out there and said, ‘How come you two guys don’t start fighting?'”

Sen. Brice Wiggins (R- Pascagoula) “cited the case of a Hattiesburg woman whose husband was shot to death several years ago when they stopped at a Moss Point gas station. Wiggins said if the bill were to become law as it’s now written, a person in her situation would be limited in recovering money from owners of the poorly lit gas station.”

Advocates of the bill claim that property owners would still want to inspect and maintain their properties to attract customers. Opponents of the bill claim that it is primarily the possibility of being held responsible for someone’s medical bills, lost wages, and pain and sufferings that forces property owners to take proactive action.

Proportional responsibility

A second change to the law changes how liability is apportioned.  The bill proposes that defendants who are held responsible only pay for their share of liability – even if other responsible parties don’t have the insurance or ability to pay their share. Currently, if a property owner and a maintenance company are each 50% liable and the maintenance company can’t pay its share of the claim, then the property owner pays 100% of the damages. The new bill would ensure that the property owner only pays what he or she is liable for. This is good for liable parties, of course, but will harm injury victims even more because it could limit their compensation to only half of the total they have been awarded.

Owners of apartment complexes, motels, retail stores, restaurants, and other properties should provide a safe place for their customers and visitors to their sites. The owners and managers are in the best position to make their property safe. If you or anyone you know was hurt while walking on, visiting, or buying items while on the property of another – you should have the right to hold responsible parties accountable.

The Southaven injury lawyers at Taylor Jones Taylor have been fighting for injury victims since 1964. We represent injury clients in the Southaven, Olive Branch, and Hernando. For help now, call 662-342-1300 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment