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Premises liability in cases of temporary structures

Most readers are familiar with the concept of a premises liability lawsuit. Property owners have a responsibility to ensure that their property is reasonably safe and that guests are warned of any dangers that cannot be mitigated. Owners of stores, restaurants, stadiums and nearly all other commercial structures take safety seriously, and the threat of lawsuits is one of the biggest motivating factors.

What readers might now know is how premises liability laws apply to temporary structures. There have been numerous, high-profile tragedies involving the collapse of temporary structures like outdoor concert stages and event tents. In many cases, the event organizers can be held liable even if they don't own the land that the structures were sitting on.

Although it didn't happen here in Rhode Island, a recent lawsuit is a good example of what can happen when event hosts don't take adequate precautions with temporary structures. In April 2012, owners of a sports bar in St. Louis had set up an event tent next to the bar. High winds that day reached up to 50 miles per hour, knocking the tent down. Seven patrons were injured in the tent collapse and an eighth person, a 58-year-old man, was killed.

Earlier this month, a jury awarded $5.2 million in damages to the victims and their families. About $2.4 million was given to the family of the deceased victim, and the rest will be shared among the seven others who were injured.

The bar owners claimed that they had no time to warn the patrons about the storm because it came on suddenly. But the jury felt otherwise, agreeing with the plaintiffs that the bar owners had been negligent.

It's not clear from news articles whether or not the bar owners owned the land that the tent had been constructed on. But as organizers of the event, they could be held liable for their failure to maintain a safe premises and to warn guests of dangerous conditions.

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