Premises liability law is the body of law that makes the person who is in possession of land or premises responsible for certain injuries suffered by persons who are present on the premises. The term premise should be broadly defined to include land, property, or places of business. Premise liability claims are generally brought under a negligence theory.
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 the breach of the defendant was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury; and that the plaintiff was injured. However, before a person can be held liable under premise liability law, it must first be determined whether the person was in possession of the property at the time the injury occurred.
A person is deemed to be in possession of a property under the following circumstances: when the person occupies the land with the intention to control it, and when the person is entitled to occupation of the land when no other person is in possession of the land. The nature of the entrance made by the injured person must also be determined. This is because the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff can vary significantly depending upon how the plaintiff is classified. Most jurisdictions classify entrants into the following categories: invitee, licensee and trespasser.
An invitee is a person who is expressly or impliedly invited by the possessor of the premises to enter and remain on the premises. Invitees can be broken down into two categories. The first group is people who enter as members of the public for a purpose for which the property, such as a museum, church or airport, is open to the public. The second category is people who enter a property for purposes connected with the property owner or occupier’s business, such as customers, delivery people and employees.
A licensee is a person who is invited to enter or remain on the premises for any purpose other than a business or commercial one with the express or implied permission of the owner or person in control of the premises. A social guest is considered a licensee. A trespasser is a person who goes upon the premises of another without an express or implied invitation, for his or her own purposes, and not in the performance of any duty to the owner.
General Rule of Liability of Owners to Trespassers If a person is injured on the property of another, a court will impose liability on the property owner or possessor under premises liability law if either of the following conditions concur: firstly, that the property owner or possessor owed the injured person a duty of care and secondly, that the property owner or possessor breached that duty of care.
Whether the property owner or possessor owed the injured person a duty of care, as well as the extent of care owed, depends on the relationship between the person owning or holding the property and the injured person. As a general rule, the owner of the property has no “duty of care” to those who cross his property uninvited or without his expressed or implied consent. However, there are three exceptions, which give rise to accountability.