If you have been injured while on someone else’s property, you may be wondering if that property owner can be held liable for compensating you for your injuries? That all depends on the reason you were visiting that person’s property. Your visitor status, at the time of your injury, will determine the duty the property owner had in protecting you. In order to figure out what your visitor status was, you need to consider why you were on the property.
Common law classifications of visitors
Based on case law in most states, the duty that a landowner owes to someone who enters onto his land depends on the status of the entrant. There are three basic classifications: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. The landowner owes a different duty to each of these classifications of visitors.
Once the classification or status of the visitor is determined and the duty owed to that visitor has been established, the next question is whether the landowner breached (or failed to fulfill) that duty and, if so, was that breach the proximate cause of the injuries claimed.
What is a “licensee?”
Unless you are a trespasser, you have a legitimate reason to be on someone’s property. That makes you either a licensee or an invitee. A licensee is on the property for his or her own purposes or amusement. For instance, if you are visiting a friend’s house as a guest at a party, you are a licensee. Though you have been invited and have permission to be on the premises, there is no direct benefit to the landowner.
Another example, that may be confusing to some, is the person who enters a store to simple ask directions or use the restroom, but is not there to actually buy anything. Since his purpose for being in the store is not to benefit the store owner, he is considered a licensee instead of an invitee.
What is an “invitee?”
On the other hand, an “invitee” has been invited to the premises, specifically for the benefit of the property owner. The most common example is a store customer – someone on the premises with the intention or purpose of buying something.
This classification is also divided into two types: business invitee and public invitee. Again, the distinction is based on the reason for the visit. A business invitee, obviously, is visiting the store in order to buy a product being sold by the merchant. However, if the property is available to the public, like a library or playground, then the visitors are classified as public invitees.
The general duty owed to visitors
In general terms, a property owner has a continuing duty to take reasonable care to protect a visitor from all known dangerous conditions on said property. If there is a known condition on the property that poses an unreasonable risk of harm, and any visitors to the property would not reasonably be expected to recognize that danger, then the owner is required to take reasonable care to eliminate the danger. If it cannot be eliminated, then the property owner must warn the visitors of the danger.
If you have questions regarding premises liability, or any other personal injury concerns, call the Cottrell Law Office at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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