Barack Obama's historic inauguration today as president of the United States was the scene of an unprecedented celebration by a crowd of more than 1 million. However, amidst all the jubilation, there have been some sobering reminders of the hazards involving large masses of people, as well as very cold weather conditions. According to an AP story, "between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m., the fire department responded to more than 60 calls from people falling down or complaining of the cold. About 20 people have been hospitalized." In another incident, rail stations downtown closed for about an hour after a woman fell on the tracks. She was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, and although it was unclear how she fell, the city's subways have been extremely crowded throughout the weekend.
These types of incidents might make one wonder what happens when someone goes to these kinds of events, suffers an injury, and ends up having to pay medical bills and related costs. Is there anything the law provides for such individuals?
The legal theory of "premises liability" holds owners and occupiers of property legally responsible for accidents and injuries that occur on such property. However, the liability of property owners will vary depending on the legal rules and principles in place in the state where the injury occurred. In some states, courts focus on the status of the injured visitor. For example, someone who's invited onto property, such as a store customer, will be given heightened protections, as compared to a trespasser or a social guest.
Meanwhile, courts in other states would focus on the condition of the property and the activities of both the owner and visitor. In general, these states impose an expectation that both the owner and visitor should exercise "reasonable" care as to the conditions of property and the visitor's activities. This does include a requirement that an owner inspect their property, identify dangerous conditions, and repair them.
Sometimes (as might be the case for these "inaugural injuries"), if a situation involves a fall on a public sidewalk or a subway station, the government might end up being the target of a premises liability suit. However, governments at the state and federal level, as well as their units have traditionally enjoyed immunity from lawsuit. Over the years, state and federal governments have been reducing their immunity, allowing certain types of lawsuits to proceed. The links below offer additional specific information on premises liability, defenses, and making claims against the government.