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Slip & Fall Lawyer



Duties to Entrants Owed By Landowners and Occupiers

Under common law principles, which are still followed by many states today, property owners and occupiers owe different duties or have special responsibilities depending on how the people entering their property are classified. Entrants to land are classified as invitees, licensees and trespassers. Because how you are classified dictates what duty the landowner owed to you, your classification may ultimately affect your ability to recover for your injuries. An attorney with experience handling slip and fall cases can explain the classifications to you and how they affect your potential case.

Negligence

Slip and fall accident cases generally proceed under the theory that the defendant (the landowner or occupier) was negligent. To establish negligence, an injured plaintiff must establish the existence of a duty by the defendant to conform to a specific standard of conduct; breach of that duty by the defendant; that this breach was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury; and that the plaintiff was injured. As discussed in more detail below, the duty that a landowner owes to a particular person depends on that person's legal status as an entrant to the land.

Classification of Entrants

Under traditional common law rules, the duty that an owner, occupier or possessor of land owes a person who enters the premises depends on the status of the entrant. Entrants are typically classified as invitees, licensees or trespassers, and the duty that the landowner or occupier owes to each class of entrant is different.

Many jurisdictions still adhere to the common law status classifications today. However, some jurisdictions in the United States have rejected the common law classes of entrants as determinative of liability. Of these, some have adopted a rule that provides that an owner or occupier of land has a duty of reasonable care under all circumstances, and the status of the entrant is merely a relevant factor in determining whether the injury was foreseeable and the landowner negligent. In addition, in some states, there are statutes that govern the standard of care owed by certain landowners or occupiers to certain classes of entrants.

Invitees

An invitee is someone who enters the land in response to an express or implied invitation from the landowner, including customers at a retail store or shopping mall. An owner or occupier of land owes the highest duty to invitees. The landowner must use reasonable and ordinary care to keep the property reasonably safe for the invitee. This includes the duty to warn the invitee of non-obvious, dangerous conditions known to the landowner; to use ordinary care in active operations on the land; and to make reasonable inspections to discover dangerous conditions and make them safe. There is generally no duty to warn if the dangerous condition is so obvious that the invitee should have reasonably seen it.

While there is no precise way to measure what is reasonable care, the law defines reasonable as what a person of ordinary intelligence and judgment would do under the same circumstances. For example, it may be reasonable for a storeowner to conduct periodic inspections, say every hour or so, to look for spills or other potentially dangerous conditions. If a slip and fall case goes to trial, the jury will decide if what the property owner did was reasonable under the circumstances.

Licensees

A licensee is a person who enters the premises with the landowner's express or implied permission for his or her own purposes rather than the landowner's benefit, such as a social guest. An owner or occupier of land has a duty to warn a licensee of a dangerous condition that creates an unreasonable risk of harm if it is known to the owner or occupier and not likely to be discovered by the licensee. There is no duty to inspect for defects or to fix known defects. The owner or occupier does have a duty to exercise reasonable care in the conduct of active operations to protect a licensee he or she knows is on the property.

Trespassers

A trespasser is someone who enters the land without the owner's permission. A landowner or occupier owes no duty to undiscovered trespassers. If a landowner discovers a trespasser on his or her land, there is a duty to exercise ordinary care to warn the trespasser of, or make safe, artificial conditions that the landowner knows involve a risk of death or serious bodily harm and that the trespasser is not likely to discover. An owner also has a duty to exercise reasonable care when performing active operations on the land.

Trespassing Children - The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

Generally, a landowner has a duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to children caused by artificial conditions on the land. The rationale for this rule is that children are sometimes drawn to dangerous conditions on property such as a swimming pool, abandoned well or heavy machinery, not realizing the risk. These potential hazards are referred to as "attractive nuisances." To establish the landowner has this duty, the plaintiff must show that (1) there is a dangerous condition on the land that the landowner should be aware of; (2) the owner knows or should know that children are often in the area of the dangerous condition; (3) the condition is dangerous and likely to cause injury because a child cannot appreciate the risk; and (4) the expense of fixing the dangerous condition is minimal compared to the risk. The attractive nuisance doctrine has been applied to lumber piles, elevators and abandoned automobiles.

Conclusion

Under the traditional common law principles, which are still followed in many states today, the duties that a landowner or occupier owe to an entrant depend upon that entrant's legal status as an invitee, licensee or trespasser. If you were injured in a slip and fall or trip and fall accident while on someone else's property, it is important to speak to a lawyer about your situation. An experienced premises liability lawyer can review your situation and determine whether your status as an entrant will affect your ability to recover.

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