When someone is injured as a result of unsafe
property or unsafe building conditions, they may have a right to
make a claim for their damages against the owner of the
property. Many homeowners and business owners fail to secure
a sufficient level of liability insurance to cover the
amount of any damages from an accident on their property. If
the premises liability insurance is not sufficient to cover
the claim, then the homeowner or business owner will become
personally responsible for the damages.
The landowner's duty to protect an entrant on the land
depends on how the entrant is classified. The entrant on the
land can be classified as a trespasser, licensee, or
invitee. The landowner's duties are different for each type
of entrant. Of course, the landowner owes less of a duty to
protect the trespasser then the other types of entrants. The
landowner's duty of care is highest for business invitees.
Some states, however, have done away with
these multiple classifications in favor of one standard of
"reasonableness under the circumstances" of a particular
There are two versions of invitees- business visitor and one
who enters as a result of public invitation.
The Business Visitor
The business visitor includes those entrants on the land
that share some business purpose with the landowner. For
example, an entrant that is a prospective customer in a
store, even if the customer does not intend to make a
purchase is a business invitee. All that is required is some
prospective advantage to the landowner (for instance, the
expectation that the entrant will return to that store when
he is ready to make a purchase). An employee is also
considered an invitee. The duty a landowner owes to a
business visitor is to ensure the premises are free of
defects and safe for the public as a whole. The landowner
also has an absolute obligation to repair any dangerous
conditions on the property and to warn any business visitors
of hidden defects that have not been repaired.
The Public Invitation
Most courts today accept a broad definition of public
invitation which includes, as an invitee, any person on land
open to the public or to the class of the public of which
the entrant is a member. For example, visitors in hospitals
and users of public parks, though having no business purpose
on the land are invitees and entitled to ordinary care.
Invitees are usually people the landowner wishes to be on
the land. Invitees are entitled to ordinary care from the
landowner. Ordinary care may require only a warning in some
cases, but, in other cases, ordinary care may require active
efforts by the landowner to make the premises safe. For
example, active effort may be required when the invitee may
be distracted and thus unable to protect himself even when
he knows of the danger.
A licensee can best be described as one who's presence on
the land is tolerated or permitted and thus not a
trespasser, but who technically does not qualify as an
invitee. For example, social guests are usually considered
licensees even if the landowner expressly invites the social
guest onto his property provided the guest does not stray
from the area of the property the homeowner intended.
Licensees are treated somewhat better than trespassers.
However, the landowner owes no duty to inspect the premises
or make them reasonably safe. Instead, the landowner is
liable only if he knows or has reason to know of the
dangerous condition on the land and should realize this
condition is dangerous. Additionally, the landowner must
have some reason to think that the licensee might encounter
the dangerous condition. For example, if a licensee is
permitted to use a homeowner's swimming pool, but instead
enters the master bedroom in the house and slips on the
floor, then the licensee would generally not have a claim
against the landowner for injuries that resulted from the
An entrant is classified as a trespasser for purposes of
determining the landowner's duty in any case in which the
entrant has no privilege to be on the land.
General Duties to Trespasser
Traditionally, the landowner owed only a duty not to
intentionally, wantonly, or recklessly injure the
trespasser. Therefore, the landowner was not liable for
ordinary negligence toward the trespasser.
However, today court are more less likely to find that
landowners owe any duty to a trespasser, with one important
exception. The landowner owes a duty not to wantonly inflict
injury upon a "mere" trespasser who does not intend to
commit a crime on the property.
Duties to Child Trespassers
Since the law has always recognized the propensity of
children to run about, climb and play, landowners usually
owe a higher duty of care to trespassing children under the
1. trespass by children is reasonably foreseeable; and
2. the landowner knows or has reason to know of the danger;
3. there is reason to think the child, by reason of his age,
will not be able to protect himself from the danger.
Owners who have created an artificial or man-made condition
which they have reason to believe children may trespass
upon, or whose land includes something that may be expected
to attract children, are under a duty to provide such care
as a reasonably prudent person would take to prevent injury.
For example, when a homeowner has a swimming pool in his or
her backyard, the homeowner owes a higher duty of care to a
child trespasser. The homeowner must take extra precautions
to ensure that a secure fence surrounds the property, so
that a child will not be able to trespass onto the property
and accidentally drown in the pool.
Premise Security Liability
A business owner has a duty to provide a safe place for its
employees to work and its customers to visit. Claims against
companies for injuries resulting from the criminal violence
of third parties on the companies premises has increased
dramatically over the past 10 years. Because the perpetrator
of a rape, armed robbery, or murder is often not apprehended
(or even if he is apprehended he is usually judgment proof),
victims are seeking compensation for their injuries from the
employer or landowner.
A recent study of premise security liability throughout the
United States found that the main targets of these lawsuits
were residential apartment building owners and hotel and
motel owners. Retail owners, restaurants and bars, as well
as a few other types of businesses made up the remaining 44%
of companies sued for inadequate premise security liability.
Although a landowner has no legal duty to protect another
from the criminal acts of a third person, a landowner's duty
may arise when the criminal conduct of a third party is the
foreseeable result of a landowner's negligence. When
criminal conduct of a third party is foreseeable, the
landowner has a duty to prevent injuries to invitees if it
reasonably appears or should appear to them that other
innocent persons may be injured on the property.
If a business is in a high crime area, then the business
should hire a safety consultant to conduct an inspection.
Through this inspection the consultant can determine the
feasibility of taking additional safety measures. These
measures can include installing security guards and security
gates, security surveillance and alarm systems. Less
expensive measures include installing proper locking devices
on all doors. Additionally, in especially high crime areas,
hotels and motels may have a duty to warn customers about
the high-crime nature of the neighborhood and the importance
of taking extra safety precautions to avoid being the victim
of a crime.
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