Determination of whether liability is present in a premises liability case can be even more complicated than an auto accident.
People can get injured on premises owned by other people in a variety of ways: they can slip and fall on liquid, or get bit by a dog. They can trip over items left in incorrect places. There might not be enough light, or there might be a defective staircase–there can be all kinds of problems on a premises which cause people injuries.
A large part is to determine if the problem which caused that injury is something which the premises’ owner is responsible for. To make this determination, we need to ascertain several aspects there.
First of all, we need to see the legal status of the injured person, and whether or not they are an invitee. An invitee is somebody who is on a premises for the purposes or benefit of the owner of that premises.
A classic presentation is somebody shopping at a supermarket. They’re there for the benefit of the supermarket as much as for their own benefit. That shopper is owed highest duty. In other words, the owner of the premises is to make sure that the store is kept, or the premises are kept, in a reasonably safe condition and needs to be warned about unsafe conditions. The store owner needs to take the precautions to ensure the shoppers’ safety.
The next category would involve a licensee. A licensee is different from an invitee because the licensee is on the premises not for the purposes of business of the premises but is just permitted to be there for their own purposes.
The premises owner, to a particular extent, has a duty to warn the licensee about non-obvious conditions or hidden conditions. So if there is a hole underneath the carpet in the floor and you can step and fall, that’s not something that can be seen by a person walking down the hallway, but it’s something that should have a warning.
A good example would be somebody who is stepping into an office building to use a restroom. It may be permitted for people to use the restroom, but it has no benefit for the business owner and the office owner for the person to use the restroom. So under those circumstances, the visitor is a licensee, because his presence is of consortia benefit on the landowner.