The owners of businesses and nonprofit organizations, including churches, are required to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition for employees, customers, and other members of the public. In the event that a hazardous condition results in an injury to an employee, customer or guest, property owners can be held accountable with a personal injury lawsuit. A case recently filed by a woman who was injured on the premises of a church has been dismissed, however, as the organization that she sued was not the legal owner of the property where she was injured.
According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff was employed by the defendant church as a security guard at the time of her injury. While at work, the plaintiff was instructed to escort a person off the property, when she tripped on a small piece of fencing surrounding a garden and suffered injuries. In addition to a workers compensation claim that she filed through her employer, the plaintiff also filed a premises liability claim against the church, alleging that they were negligent in failing to maintain their premises in a safe manner.
In response to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the defendant put forth three defenses. First, the defendant argued that they were not the owners of the property where the plaintiff was injured, as another separate organization owns the property and the plaintiff simply uses it for church services every Sunday. Additionally, the defendant argued that the fence was an open and obvious hazard and that the plaintiff herself was negligent by failing to look out for and avoid the hazard. The trial court accepted all of the defendants’ arguments and dismissed the plaintiff’s case. Importantly, the court found that the plaintiff presented no evidence that the defendant actually owned the property where she was injured.