The law of premises liability states that owners and occupiers of land may be held responsible for accidents and injuries occurring on that property. The responsibility of a land owner or occupier may vary depending on the particular state or location of the property. However, in general, a property owner’s duty depends on the status of the visitor on their property.
Invitee. An invitee is a person who is invited onto the property by the property owner. An example might be a customer in a store. A property owner owes the highest duty of care to an invitee, and this may include a duty to warn of non-obvious as well as obvious hazards, a duty to make reasonable inspection, and a duty to make safe any unsafe conditions. This duty may also include an implied promise that reasonable care has been taken to assure the property is safe.
Licensee. A licensee is a person who enters a property for their own purposes, but has a legal right to be there. An example might be a social guest. A land owner owes a duty of care to the licensee, but this standard often does not include an implied promise to inspect and make the premises safe. However, a landowner must still warn a licensee against non-obvious hazards.
Trespasser. A trespasser is a person who has no legal right to be on the property. Generally speaking, a property owner does not owe a duty of care to a trespasser. However, if the property owner knows there are likely to be trespassers on the property, there may be a duty to give a reasonable warning to prevent injury from non-obvious artificial conditions on the property that the owner knows to be dangerous. Additionally, a land owner cannot intentionally injure a trespasser.
Although the above summarizes a traditional view of premises liability matters, recent trends may suggest a movement toward a two category distinction – those legally on the property (invitees and licensees) and those illegally on the property (trespassers).
Property Considerations. In addition to the above view, some states may give consideration to the condition and nature of use of the property. These states typically provide a uniform standard of care to both licensees and invitees. This standard includes an exercise of reasonable care for the safety of the visitor, unless they are a trespasser, which means a continuing duty of inspection to identify dangerous conditions and repair or warn of them as appropriate. The determining whether the property owner’s actions met the standard often includes consideration of the circumstances under which the visitor entered the property, the use to which the property is put, the foreseeability of the accident or injury, and the reasonableness of the owner’s effort to repair the condition and warn visitors.
Premises liability cases, particularly slip-and-fall cases, often require investigation of the appropriateness of cleaning materials, procedures, warnings, and flooring surfaces in the accident area. Onsite inspection and tribology (friction) measurement, as well as laboratory testing may be required in some instances. The results of the investigation may be compared to standards and other industry requirements. At RWFE, we have assisted clients by reviewing cleaning procedures, materials, performing onsite tribology measurements, and conducting laboratory experimentation in relation to many slip-and-fall accidents. Two of our Associates were recently appointed to the ANSI B101.2 standards development subcommittee in the general interest category for their knowledge of tribology, premises liability law, and recent efforts in conducting floor safety tribology research at the Materials Performance & Failure Analysis Laboratory.