As a landowner, or as a legitimate occupier of property, you owe “invitees” a certain duty to keep them safe. Below we identify who is an “invitee,” as well as the duty owed to invitees. Whether someone is an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser matters in some states when determining whether the landowner or occupier is liable for injuries. You may be surprised at what the law requires.
What is an Invitee?
An invitee is someone who the landowner or occupier invites onto their property. This can be an explicit invitation, such as “Why don’t you come to my house for a cookout on Saturday?” Or it can be implied, such as when you post signs around the neighborhood advertising your garage sale. While there is not a direct invitation to a specific person to come into the garage, by virtue of the signs, it is implied that one may enter the garage.
What is a Landowner or Occupier’s Duty to Invitees?
As a landowner or occupier, in states that differentiate based on circumstances, you have the highest duty to those you invite onto your property, thus the term “invitee.” Your duty includes keeping your property safe. It is not enough to presume your property is safe. Instead, the law requires you inspect your property regularly to ensure that it is, and continues to be, safe. Practically speaking, what does this mean? It means if you invite people over for a cookout on your deck, you need to ensure that your deck can support the weight of those invited onto the property. If you have rotting wood, or gaping holes in the floor of the deck, these must be repaired or otherwise rendered safe. You also have a duty to ensure there are no hidden dangers. Thus, you are expected to inspect the property to ensure there are no dangling electrical wires, or dead trees which may fall over onto the deck while you are entertaining.
What if a Danger Can’t be Fixed?
In some cases, the danger just can’t be fixed. Where a danger cannot be fixed, the landowner or occupant must mitigate the danger by warning the invitee of the danger. This could be done by putting up tape to cordon off an area or blocking off the area in some other way.
The Scope of a Landowner or Occupier’s Duty
There are limits to a landowner or occupier’s duty. For example, if you invite friends over for a cookout, the reasonable area which must be safe might include the deck, the bathrooms, the kitchen, and the walkway to the back yard. On the other hand, if you are having a garage sale, you have a duty to ensure the driveway and garage are safe and free from danger. If you invite someone to a cookout, and they proceed to explore your closed garage area, they are not protected, as you, the landowner or occupier had no intention of allowing party goers into your private garage. Thus, if they sustain an electric shock due to exposed wires in the garage, the landowner or occupier is not liable, as the invitee has gone beyond the scope of the invitation. Similarly, if a garage sale attendee goes beyond the driveway and garage, and onto your back deck, they are not protected, as they have not been invited onto the back deck as part of the scope of the garage sale. Thus, if their foot breaks through the deck flooring due to rotted wood, the landowner or occupant is not going to be liable because they have no duty to protect garage sale attendees from dangers on the back deck (unless, of course, the garage sale includes items in the back yard and on the deck).
Change the Facts, Change the Result
Every personal injury case is different, because each case is made up of individual facts and circumstances. Some garage sales are held only in the garage. Some back yard parties spill into the yard, the garage, and the house, including, in some cases, the basement. There are no hard and fast rules, such as “no one is ever liable for what happens in the basement” or “garage sales are only in garages.” Consequently, in each case where a person is injured on the property of another, each fact must be critically examined to determine whether the danger was known, or should have been known, to the landowner or occupant, as well as whether the injury occurred in a location beyond the scope of the invitation.