How Does the Duty of Care Apply in Premises Liability Cases?
Premises liability cases are so complex because the property owner may owe a slightly different duty of care to people who visit their property. This depends on many different contextual factors.
The main idea is that the duty of care depends on whether the person was invited, what their purpose was being there, and whether the property owner had an opportunity to fix potentially dangerous conditions.
There are three basic types of visitors. A property owner owes a different duty of care to each of them:
Invitee: This is a person that the property owner invited to enter their property for any lawful reason.
Examples: Friends who were invited to another’s house, hotel patrons, store customers, and people attending a sporting event.
Duty of Care: A property owner may be held liable if they knew or should have known about the dangerous condition if they had exercised “reasonable care” in inspecting their property. The owner has a duty to warn all invitees of such risks; they also have a duty to inspect their property for dangers that could harm the invitee.
Licensee: This is a person allowed to be on the property for their own benefit, and who remains present at the owner’s consent.
Examples: A utility worker who enters the premises to repair an electrical wire, a friend who stops by uninvited and enters the owner’s house, or someone who the owner granted permission to hike on their land.
Duty of Care: Similar to invitees, the owner is liable if they had reason to know of any dangers, and failed to take steps to correct the hazard. They also have a duty to warn the licensee; however, they typically don’t owe a duty to inspect the premises beforehand.
Trespassers: This is someone with no legal right or permission from the owner to enter the property.
Examples: A burglar, a person hunting on a plot of land without permission, or someone loitering after hours at a construction site.
Duty of Care: Property owners are generally not responsible for injuries trespassers sustain on the property. They also don’t have a duty to warn them of hazards or inspect their land to make it safe.
These categories will differ according to state law; in addition, there may be exceptions to these rules. For example, property owners generally don’t need to warn trespassers of dangers; however, they also typically can’t set booby traps to injure them.
So, sorting out damages and liability can be very confusing if you were injured while on someone else’s land or property. Thus, it’s in your best interests to hire a lawyer who can research the laws in your area and determine what your options are in terms of damages.