If a guest, customer, or trespasser is injured while on your property, they may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against you. Whether you will actually be held liable depends on how the person was injured, and what their status was on your property. An example of this would be how a property owner would likely be less liable for a trespasser’s injuries than a guest’s injuries.
Generally speaking, the law requires landowners to maintain their property in the same way that another reasonable person would. If the landowner fails to do so, or breaches their duty of care to those entering their property, they may be liable for negligence.
As previously mentioned, a property owner’s duty of care under premises liability laws will vary according to the status of the person injured while on their property. Liability for injury on private property will usually be higher for those who were invited on to the property, than for those who were trespassing and therefore uninvited.
Can My Social Guests Sue Me?
Residential property owners have a legal obligation to provide reasonable care, and land and home maintenance, for anyone who is invited to or visits the premises. The purpose of this is to ensure that the area is safe from dangerous conditions. This type of responsibility is known as premises liability; premises liability laws refer to the rules which govern residential homeowners’ liability for personal injury.
However, as previously mentioned, the exact duty of care depends on how the person is entering the property. There are generally three categories for duty of care, which include:
- An invitee, who is a person invited onto the property for business purposes;
- A licensee, or a person on the property for either social reasons or their own purposes; and
- A trespasser, or an individual who has entered the property without permission.
Generally speaking, invited guests must be warned of any hidden dangers to be found on your property. However, you usually do not owe a duty to inspect your property for any such dangers. The level of care is lower for licensees than an invitee. If you are aware of any potential hazards, tell your guests. If you are aware of a hazard, and do not tell your guest, it could result in you being liable for injured social guests.
Can My Customers Sue Me?
This category of visitors usually enjoy the highest standard of care. An invitee is a person invited to the property for business purposes, or a customer. Property in this instance can include open businesses, such as stores, and public facilities such as libraries. Whether or not a visitor purchases your product or service, they are still entitled to this specific standard of care while visiting your property.
According to this standard, a property owner owes the duty to repair and fix known dangers. Additionally, they have an obligation to reasonably inspect for, discover, and fix unknown hazards in those areas of the property of where an invitee may have access to. An example of this would be how a store keeper owes a duty of reasonable care to their customers to be able to use the restroom on the premises.
Simply put, similar to a social guest, landowners must make customers aware of any hidden dangers such as uneven floors or slippery surfaces. However, in addition to that warning, landowners must inspect their property and make reasonable repairs to any dangerous conditions for their customers. Failure to do so could result in the business owner facing liability for injured customers at a place of business.
Can a Trespasser Sue Me?
What if someone trespasses on my property and gets hurt? Property owners do not owe a duty to protect trespassers who enter their property. However, property owners cannot willfully injure trespassers. If there are frequent trespassers on the property, and the property owner is aware of them, they may be held liable for the injuries sustained due to an unsafe condition on the property.
The following are some conditions that must be present for liability:
- There is a dangerous condition which exists because the property owner created it, or maintained it;
- The hazardous condition was likely to cause death or serious bodily harm; and
- The landowner failed to exercise the duty of care to warn the trespassers of the condition and the risk present.
An example of sufficient warning would be a sign at the entry of the property. To summarize, landowners owe no duty to trespassers to repair any dangerous condition. Nor do landowners owe a duty to inspect the property for such dangers. For the undiscovered trespasser, the landowner only owes the duty of not intentionally trapping or harming the trespasser.
What About Child Trespassers?
The aforementioned guidelines change when applied to children trespassers. Child trespassers are the exception to the general duties regarding trespassers. There is a duty to inspect the premises for safety and repair any known dangerous conditions, and the landowner is to exercise reasonable care in eliminating or substantially reducing the risk to the trespassing child. This is covered by the attractive nuisance doctrine.
The attractive nuisance doctrine is what protects child trespassers from objects or features on a land that attract children to the land, and has dangers that are not expected due to the child’s inability to appreciate the risk. Examples could include pools, abandoned vehicles, and trampolines. Whether the child is able to appreciate the risk is determined on a case by case basis in most jurisdictions. Additionally, the landowner must have been able to foresee this risk to a potential child trespasser if they are to be successfully sued.
A child trespasser’s parents may be held liable for civil damages, especially in cases involving the child damaging the property.
Should I Consult a Lawyer for Help with Property Injury Issues?
If you are a landowner, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer to determine the duty of care you owe, if you have a hazardous feature on your property. Consulting with an experienced attorney could help you avoid future liability issues.
If someone has been injured on your property, you should also consult a personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney can protect your rights and provide any available defenses in court.