Premises liability and the Invitee, licensee, trespasser
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Suppose you have broken pavement on your property and your best friend falls and gets injured. Suppose that the next day, the FedEx delivery person also falls on the broken sidewalk and is injured. What if the person on your property was not a friend or delivery person, but a trespasser? Are you liable? The short answer is probably. Property owners are required by law to provide a reasonably safe environment for people who enter their property. This means that owners must remove, fix, or warn of any known hazards. Otherwise, the property owner may be liable in a personal injury lawsuit. However, a Honolulu personal injury attorney points out that the rules are somewhat different depending on the state in which you live.
Invitee, Licensee, Trespasser Distinction
In some jurisdictions, the level of duty you as a property owner owe persons entering your property depends on the reason that person is on your property. Invitees are people who are on your property because you invited them. An invitation to come onto property does not have to be a direct invitation. If a person believes that he or she is invited because the property is open to the public, than that person is also considered an invitee under the law. For example, a business invitee is a person who enters your store in order to conduct business, even though that person did not receive a personal invitation to enter the property. As a property owner you owe invitees the highest duty of care. This means that you must make sure that your property is reasonably safe for invitees. If there is a spill in your store about which you are aware or should be aware, you are required to clean up the spill or warn invitees about the hazard. If you fail to do so and as a result an invitee is injured, you may be liable under in personal injury lawsuit.
On the other hand, a licensee is someone who has permission to enter your property as a social guest or for his or her own benefit. For example if a person enters your store not to purchase goods, but to ask for directions or get change, that person is a licensee. As a property owner you do not owe a licensee the same duty as you would owe an invitee. You are not required to take reasonable steps to ensure that your property is free from naturally occurring hazards. However, you are required to remove or warn about any hazards that you create that are likely to cause serious hard or death.
Property owners owe trespassers the lowest duty of care. A trespasser is a person who enters your property without permission. A trespasser is treated like a licensee in that the a property owner does not have to take care that a trespasser is safe from naturally occurring hazards. However, you must take care to keep even a trespasser safe from known, artificial hazards that are likely to cause serious injury or death.
Even with jurisdictions that maintain a distinction between an invitee, licensee, and trespasser, the treatment of each under premises liability law varies. For example, some treat invitees and licensees the same and the trespasser differently.
Many jurisdictions, such as Hawaii, do not distinguish among invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Instead, the law requires that property owners take reasonable steps to ensure that anyone who enters your property is not injured by a known hazard. If you as a property owner takes reasonable steps to eliminate a hazard, but someone is still harmed you will not be held liable. However, if a hazard is “open and obvious,” then not only would you know be required to post a warning, you would likely not be held liable if someone is injured.
If someone is trespassing on your property, why should you be liable if that person is injured? If in the course of committing a burglary the offender is injured on a hazard that is known to you, could the offender sue you for his or her injuries?