Premise Liability: Are You An Invitee, A Licensee, or A Trespasser?

premise liability Tort law is governed by civil common law. Which means that there are no statutes that give lawyers a black and white description to apply to specific cases and then bam-boom-violá your done. Instead, attorney’s have to perform rigorous studies over previous court verdicts and testimonies to prove negligence or liability of another party.

Premise liability cases, cases involving a plaintiff who was injured on the defendant’s property, center around the core of the law’s ambiguity because the four elements that establish a property owner as liable are hard to establish clearly.

Do You Have A Premise Liability Case?

In a premise liability case, lawyers have to work with the frustrating part of implementing elements of the law that can be interpreted in countless ways. These malleable elements include determining what is “foreseeable” and what is “reasonable” to foresee. We can understand where two parties with opposing interests would obviously disagree. Here are the four elements that have to be proven in a premise liability case:

  1. A condition on the premise posed an unreasonable risk of harm. 
  2. The defendant knew or reasonably should have known of the harm posed by the condition
  3. The defendant breached its duty of care by both 
    1. failing to adequately warn the plaintiff of the condition
    2. failing to make the condition reasonably safe
  4. the defendant’s breach approximately caused the plaintiffs injury

Most property owners are never going to see that they had any reasonable way to know how a condition of their property posed any possibility of harm to anyone. Even more, they aren’t going to admit that they had any foreseeable capability of an injury happening. However, a plaintiff will always have full faith that their injuries were the result of a hazardous condition and not their own fault. So how do we decide how liable the premise owner or controller is?

First, there needs to be an identification of the reason the plaintiff visited the property. This will determine the amount of liability the defendant is responsible for. Your reason for being on someone’s property determines how liable they are if you suffer an injury. There are three different types of status the visitor can have: invitee, licensee, and trespasser. Each determine how liable the property owner is for the injuries.

Are You and Invitee, Licensee, or Trespasser?

  • Invitee—You might automatically assume that this is a person who is “invited” to a property like a social guest. However, this represents a commercial transaction where the invitation is implied. An invitee enters a property with the property owner’s (or controllers) knowledge and for their mutual benefit. Most of the time if you are involved in a slip and fall injury at a restaurant, store, or hotel, this is an invitor/invitee relationship.A property owner owes the highest level of care to the invitee. The property owner owes the invitee a duty to protect the invitee from reasonable risks that he or she is aware of and foreseeable risks that could be identified after a reasonable inspection.
  • Licensee—A licensee is the social guest. Someone who is invited to enter and/or remain on a property for reasons other than commercial or business intents. The invitation can either be expressed implicitly or implied.If you are a licensee who was injured on a a homeowner’s property for instance, then you have to prove three criteria for the defendant to be liable and owe you money for compensation:
    1. The property owner knew of a risk or condition that could cause the licensee harm and that the licensee would have and unlikely means of knowing about.
    2. The licensor failed to make the condition safe or notify the licensee of the condition.
    3. The licensee did not know or have a reason to know the condition existed or the risk involved with the condition.
  • TrespasserThe property owner has the least amount of duty to the trespasser. A trespasser is someone who enters or remains on the property with or without the property owner’s knowing and always without the property owner’s consent. If the property owner does not know of the trespasser’s entrance onto their property, then there is no duty from the property owner to the trespasser. If the owner does know of the trespasser’s entrance, then the owner has to give warning of all unnatural hazards. For instance, signs posted about bear traps on the property in an area that might be near a hiking trail.

How Status Can Change with Deviation From Original Intention

When someone enters into a store, doesn’t buy anything, and walks out only to trip and fall outside and in front of the store. Is this person an invitee? Does the store owner owe any duty in a situation where there was no mutual benefit? This is where status of the visitor can get tricky and change the amount of liability the property owner owes to the injured party.

The status of the visitor, therefore, depends on the reason and intent of the visitor. This is where cases and case law gets ambiguous and tricky. Defendants will work hard to downgrade your status so that they can prove that their liability is minimal.

Premise Liability in Texas

Texas is notoriously conservative and known for advocating for big businesses. The Texas Supreme Court has notoriously continued to say premise owners are not at fault leaving injured victims uncompensated for injuries that they incurred on the premises of big businesses. These cases can be tough because the big businesses know that they have an advantage and don’t need to worry about these cases too much.

You need a lawyer who knows how to build a case and fight for you. Who can look into every strategy that the defendant is going to use to prove you wrong and not give you the compensation you need. You need the Loewy Law Firm and our proven results in premise liability cases. If you think you’ve been in a premise liability case, then call us and we’ll let you know every option you have available.