Business Premises Liability in Iowa

In Iowa, business owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of their premises for the protection of lawful visitors—that is, invitees.

A business owner may be negligent in failing to use ordinary care toward an invitee. Negligence includes doing something a reasonable business owner would not due under the circumstances or the failure to do something a reasonable owner would do. Negligence arises when a business owner breaches a duty owed to the invitee, which is the breach of the duty to use reasonable care.

Generally, in negligence cases, the plaintiff must prove four things: (1) a duty of care, (2) the defendant breached that duty of care, (3) the negligence caused the plaintiff to suffer damage, and (4) the amount of damage.

For premises liability for a business owner, the business owner owes a duty to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance and care of its premises for the protection of invitees. To establish a case for premises liability, the plaintiff must show that the defendant business owner knew or should have known of a condition on the premises that created an unreasonable risk or that the plaintiff would not protect himself or herself. The defendant’s negligence must also have been the cause of the plaintiff’s damage, which includes both factual cause, i.e. the cause in fact, and proximate cause, i.e. the legal cause. Finally, the plaintiff must prove damages, which can include compensatory damages, i.e. damages for injuries, pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of future earnings, and past and future medical expenses, and punitive damages, i.e. when the defendant’s conduct constituted a willful and wanton disregard for the rights of another and caused actual damage.

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The court considers many factors in determining whether a business owner has exercised reasonable care to an invitee. These factors include (1) the foreseeability of the harm, (2) the purpose for which the invitee entered the premises, (3) the time, manner, and circumstances of the entrance, (4) the expected use of the premises, (5) the reasonableness of inspection, repair, and warnings on the premises, (6) the opportunity or ease of repair or warning, and (7) the burden on the business owner in providing protection.

If a plaintiff is not lawfully on the business premises, then the plaintiff is not an invitee but a trespasser. A trespasser is a person who has no legal right to be upon the business owner’s land and enters the land without the express or implied consent of the owner. However, a business may not use his land in such a way that it deliberately or maliciously causes injury to a trespasser. Once the business owner is aware of the presence of a trespasser, the owner must use reasonable care to avoid injuring the trespasser. The rationale for the the rule of no duty towards trespassers is that a business owner should not be obligated to make its property safe or in any particular condition for the benefit of intruders.