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Knowing Your Rights as an Invitee

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Posted on March 20, 2023

Premises liability laws in California and other states hold property owners responsible for injuries occurring on their property with the acknowledgment that the owner of any premises should take reasonable care to maintain a safe, hazard-free environment so visitors can enter without risk of sustaining injuries due to the owner’s negligence. Proving this type of liability requires showing that the property owner knew, or should reasonably have known about a dangerous condition. For example, knowing that an upstairs banister was loose and not fixing it or properly placing warning signs is a clear liability. However, a snake randomly slithering onto a property and biting a visitor isn’t a liability for the owner who had no way of knowing a snake was on the property.

Part of understanding the fundamentals of premises liability law includes understanding your rights as an invitee on someone else’s property, compared to other categories of visitors to a premises.

What Is an Invitee compared to a Licensee or a Trespasser?

The legal term “invitee” is often misleading. Because we think of an invitation as coming from a homeowner to a friend asking them in for coffee or lunch, the word “invitee” connotates a different meaning in ordinary terms compared to legal ones. Legally, if you have permission to be on someone’s property socially as a friend or frequent visitor, you are actually a “licensee.” This means your friendly relationship with the property owner grants you their license to be on the premises. An invitee, on the other hand, refers to a person invited onto a property for business purposes. In a private home, an invitee might be a repairman, delivery person, housekeeper, or contractor. In a business such as a store, restaurant, or hotel, customers are invitees.

Property owners owe the highest degree of care to invitees on their property, whereas they hold lesser responsibility to a licensee, for whom they must take reasonable measures to protect from hazards, but are not obligated to search out potential hazards and eliminate them. Finally, property owners owe the least duty of care toward trespassers on their property, though they can still be held liable if they purposely set up hazards to prevent trespassers.

What Rights Do I Have as an Invitee?

When a property owner opens their premises to you for business purposes, whether you are buying goods in their market, spending a night in their hotel, or you’re a repair person fixing a leaky pipe in a private home, the property owner has the responsibility to foresee and prevent hazards from harming you. For instance, a store owner must wipe up spills to prevent falls and secure any loose shelving to prevent crush injuries. A homeowner must prevent their dog from biting a repair person they’ve hired to fix a leaky pipe in their bathroom.

Property owners must take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of invitees on their property for business purposes. Though the word “reasonable” may seem subjective, the court typically follows the standard of asking “Would a reasonable person have predicted that this circumstance could result in injury and taken steps to address the problem?”

If there is a hazardous condition on a property, the property owner has the duty of care to promptly address the hazard by removing or repairing it, or by properly warning invitees of the danger.

In the process of a lawsuit, a jury would first determine the status of an injury victim as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser on a property before reaching a conclusion about whether or not the property owner negligently failed in their duty to prevent harm.