A common example of lawsuits run amok is the tale of a robber who fell through the skylight and then sued the homeowner. Though this story is taken out of context and the full facts are not examined, there is a very real and very important distinction in many states between trespassers, invitees, and licensees.
The reason that personal injury laws distinguish between invitees, trespassers, and licensees is because there are different levels of care that a property owner owes to these groups. The level of care owed can sometimes impact whether or not a homeowner had a responsibility to prevent the events that led to the individual’s injury.
An invitee is the most straightforward to define. Anyone the property owner either invites or brings into their property is considered an invitee. In addition to the expected group of guests, clients, and friends, contractors are also considered invitees since they are invited in to perform a task.
In general, property owners must make sure that their property has adequate safeguards against any potential hazards and must give proper warnings to any potential danger that could be discovered by a “reasonable inspection.” This may include taking obstructions out of walkways, disclosing any animals kept on the property, and warning about any spills or other known hazards.
A licensee is anyone who has permission to be on the premises but is not expected. For example, a customer visiting the gas station to buy gas is an invitee, as the signs around the shop advertise gas. A person coming to the gas station to make change or to chat with the cashier would be considered a licensee since they are not coming onto the premises for the owner’s intended purpose but they are still legally permitted to be there.
Licensees have slightly fewer protections than invitees, but they cannot be harmed by traps or other known hidden dangers. Additionally, if the property owner is engaged in some dangerous activity on a property that licensees are permitted on, then they have a duty to be on the lookout for other people while conducting their business. Broadly speaking, a licensee is responsible for their own safety with regards to obvious dangers, but the property owner cannot conceal any hazards that exist either intentionally or unintentionally.
Trespassers are the final group of potential visitors to a property. Trespassers are those who are not invited, nor do they have a legal right to be on the property. Depending on the time and place, a person could either be a trespasser or a licensee. For example, convenience stores allow customers to visit. If, however, the customer goes into the employee breakroom or storeroom, they become a trespasser. Likewise, if a customer enters a property outside of business hours, they are now a trespasser.
The duty of care owed to trespassers is far less than that owed to licensees or invitees. Generally, the condition of the property is irrelevant and the property owner does not have to be mindful of trespassers when doing dangerous activities, nor do they have to warn trespassers of hidden hazards.
In most states where the distinction is made, the only thing property owners are required to do is not harm trespassers through unmanned traps or intentional hazards. If a trespasser steps on a rusted rake and breaks their nose, that’s their fault for being somewhere they shouldn’t be. That doesn’t mean that the property owner can intentionally scatter rakes randomly all over the property to punish trespassers.
The exception to these trespasser rules concerns trespassing children. In states like Connecticut, if a property owner knows about a potential hazard and knows that children may trespass on their property, they must fix the hazard or make the area inaccessible to children.
Interestingly, some states have decided to replace the three standards of visitor with a more general “reasonable standard” for property owners. Under this standard, states like Hawaii assert that a property owner must take reasonable steps to either eliminate or warn about any hazards on the property. If the property owner is found to have made a good faith, reasonable effort to address the risk, or if the hazard is open and obvious, they may not be found liable.
If you have been injured on the property of a company or individual due to negligence, you may be able to recover damages. A property owner who failed to properly disclose a hazard can be the cause of years of pain and recovery. With a good Personal Injury attorney, however, you can recover your costs for medical expenses, physical therapy, or any other long-term effects of your injury.
A good Personal Injury attorney can track down witnesses, assess the danger of the facility, and produce expert testimony to demonstrate how you suffered your injuries and why. The best Personal Injury attorneys will be able to negotiate a settlement to the case long before it goes to trial. To find the best Personal Injury attorneys in your area you’ll need Attorney at Law.
At AAL, our nationwide network of attorneys and law firms can match you with the best Personal Injury attorney in your area. Our partners have the resources, legal knowledge, and experience to face down the biggest corporations in the country and the local knowledge to navigate your court system.
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