Premises liability law in Virginia

Although injuries from motor vehicle accidents are the most common in personal injury law, people can get hurt in all types of scenarios. Accidents happen while shopping, eating in restaurants, socializing with friends, visiting amusement parks, and so on.

people screaming on a roller coaster

What is a premises liability case?

Under Virginia law, an incident that occurs on another person’s property is called a premises liability claim. Can you sue someone for falling on their property? The premises liability law that applies to these cases can be complex. Accordingly, this article is designed to address the main points of consideration for Virginia premises liability cases.

In the broadest possible sense, all personal injury claims in Virginia start out simply. The property owner, or defendant, must have breached a legal duty that they had to the injured person, or plaintiff.  And this breach must have caused the harm and injury that the plaintiff claims.

Virginia law makes it clear that owners and/or occupants of a premises may be held liable for injuries caused to other people by the conditions on that premises. However, establishing the duty a property owner or occupant owes to an injured person requires a somewhat complicated analysis.

Classroom with cleaning sign

What if I get injured on someone else’s property?

Under the Code of Virginia, plaintiffs injured on the property of another person or company are broken down into three categories: trespassers, licensees, and invitees. The duty owed to the injured party varies depending on which of these three categories applies to the injured party.


A trespasser is defined as “one who unlawfully enters the land of another.” Generally speaking, a property owner has no duty to keep the premises safe for trespassers. This proposition makes sense. If you own a piece of property, the law does not require you to maintain your property to ensure the safety of people who do not have permission to be there in the first place.


A licensee is defined as a person “who enters a property for his own convenience or benefit with the knowledge and consent, express or implied, of the owner.” Licensees include social guests, hunters, travelers at railroad crossings, and a wide range of other instances. As a general rule, the owner only has a duty to warn the licensee of dangerous conditions of which the owner has knowledge or notice. In an absence of knowledge of certain conditions, there is no duty to warn and thus no liability.

slippery when wet sign on an icy bridge


An invitee is an individual to whom the landowner or occupier has extended an invitation, and the visitor enters pursuant to that invitation. A visitor is considered an invitee if the premises is open to the public and the visitor enters for the purpose for which the premises are open. The owner or occupant of the premises owes a duty to invitees to use ordinary care to maintain the premises in a reasonable, safe condition and to warn invitees of hidden dangers.

For example, if a shopper enters a grocery store to purchase food, they are an invitee. The owner has both a duty to maintain the property in a safe condition and a duty to warn the shopper of any hazards like a freshly mopped surface or a loose tile on the floor. If during the course of their shopping, the plaintiff wanders into the ‘employees only’ stock room, they could then be considered a trespasser to which no legal duty is owed.

As you can see, it is important to know who the plaintiff is, why the plaintiff is on the premises, and where the plaintiff is at the time they are injured. This evidence is vitally important in determining whether the premises owner or occupant owes a legal duty to the plaintiff.

Kid in converse shoes slipping on a banana peel

Steps in a premises liability lawsuit

In Virginia premises liability cases, assuming that you can establish a legal duty, the plaintiff must also show that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the defective condition before they can establish that the duty was breached. Actual knowledge is straightforward. Either the owner or occupant knew about the hazard or they did not. If the defendant claims they did not know about the defect, constructive knowledge can be established by showing that the defect existed for a sufficient period of time. After a certain amount of time, it can be determined that a reasonable owner or occupant should have known about the issue.

An example would be a young child dropping a banana peel on the floor of a supermarket. If no one tells an employee about the banana peel, and the peel is only on the floor for a matter of seconds before the next shopper slips on it, the store had neither actual nor constructive notice of the defective condition. They could not possibly have remedied the problem, and therefore, will not be liable for any resulting injury.

Hence, if the potential plaintiff is unable to establish actual notice of the defect or hazardous condition, they must be able to show when the defect came into existence in order to prevail in their claim. They must demonstrate that the defect existed long enough that it was unreasonable for the defendant to ignore it.

Premises liability lawyers

If you or someone you know was injured on the property of another, the premises liability attorneys of Allen & Allen are happy to walk through the analysis above, as it pertains to the unique circumstances of your case. Navigating the complicated world of premises liability claims in Virginia without the assistance of a professional can have disastrous consequences. Contact us for a free consultation at 1-866-388-1307.