Property Owner’s Liability for Customers, Social Guests, and Trespassers
When business owners invite customers onto their premises, they implicitly warrant to the customers that the shop is reasonably safe, and the business owners accept certain liability for any injuries which may occur in their shop. Similarly, a homeowner implicitly warrants that their home is reasonably safe for their social guests, and they accept liability for some injuries which may occur in their home. The law of premises liability determines when property owners are liable for injuries to their customers and guests.
A property owner’s liability when a visitor is injured depends on the status of the visitor. Under Arizona law, there are three basic categories of visitors: trespassers, invitees and licensees. The duty owed to the visitor by the property owner differs depending on the visitor’s status.
Trespassers are visitors who were not invited onto the property and who otherwise have no right to enter the property. Property owners do not have a duty to warn trespassers of known or hidden hazards on the property, unless the property owner knows the trespasser is on the property. However, the property owner may not intentionally harm a trespasser. For example, a café owner has no duty to warn a burglar of a loose floorboard, and if the burglar trips on the loose floorboard and injures himself, then the café owner will probably not be held liable. But, if the café owner sets a booby trap to injure any burglars, the café owner will likely be liable for the burglar’s injuries.
Invitees are visitors to whom the property owner gives express or implied permission to enter the property. Invitees are sometimes referred to as “business visitors,” because they are customers who are permitted to enter the property owner’s shop to conduct a business transaction. Property owners have a duty to inspect the property and protect invitees from hazards which the property owner knows about or reasonably should know about. The fact that the hazard was an obvious one to the invitee does not shield the property owner from liability. For example, if a customer enters the café to buy an espresso and she trips on the obviously loose floorboard and breaks her wrist, then the café owner will likely be liable for the customer’s injury.
Finally, a licensee is a visitor who enters the property for her own benefit or enjoyment, and not to conduct a business transaction. Social guests are the most typical examples of licensees. Property owners have a duty not to intentionally or recklessly harm a licensee, but they do not have a duty to warn licensees of hazards which are unknown to the property owner or hazards which are known or reasonably discoverable by the licensee. For example, the host of a pool party would probably not be liable to an adult guest who drowns in the pool because the guest was aware or should have been aware that swimming pools are inherently hazardous.
All property owners should be aware of the different visitor types because their duties and corresponding liabilities will change depending on which category the visitor fall in. The way property owners inspect and maintain their properties depends on the status of the visitors frequenting the property and the sufficiency of the warning given to the visitors.
Note: the term “property owners” as used in this post also includes those who possess the property even though they do not own the property. Therefore, both commercial and residential tenants could be held liable for certain injuries that occur on the property that they lease and occupy. Call our Mesa business attorney today for any assistance needed.
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