Injured on Someone Else’s Property? How Much You Recover May Depend on Your “Category”

When you get injured on someone else’s property, you may be wondering whether or not you should be stuck with your own medical bills.  Before you can decide if you are even entitled to damages, you must figure out if the owner or person in control of the property where you were injured owed a duty of protection to you with regard to the safety of the land.  These obligations depend entirely on the type of person that is on the property.  The different categories of people are invitees, licensees, known trespassers, and unknown trespassers, and a different level of protection against harm is owed to each one by the person that owns, rents, or leases the property.

The lowest level of protection is owed to unknown trespassers, which is no protection at all. Unknown trespassers are people that come onto someone else’s property and that person has no reason to know that they are there.  One example of an unknown trespasser would be a random person walking around a house in a low-crime neighborhood to “case it” with the intention of breaking in later.  The property owner does not owe a single effort of protection to this kind of trespasser.

Unlike unknown trespassers, known trespassers are owed a level of protection, though property owners only need to protect them against man-made conditions that they actually know about.  Known trespassers are people that come onto a person’s property without anyone’s permission, but whose presence is reasonably foreseeable.  This type of trespasser includes anyone that goes onto land where there are signs posted that state “No Trespassers Allowed” because these people are known to come onto the property from time to time.  Property owners and others that are in control of the property owe these known trespassers a duty to protect them only from relatively hidden man-made dangers, such as sprinkler heads that are not visible to the naked eye.

The next level of protection for visitors to another’s property is given to licensees.  Property owners give people that are licensees permission to be on their property, but the people that are visiting are not on the property to provide a benefit to the owner.  Instead licensees are people such as friends that come over to watch the Super Bowl on TV.  For these people, property owners owe a duty to protect them from any dangers that the owner knows about, regardless of whether they are man-made or are just occurring naturally, so long as they are not obvious dangers.  This means that property owners are responsible for warning licensees about the patch of quicksand that just happens to exist in their yard, but not about the giant hole in the middle of their living room floor.

Finally, the most protection is owed to invitees, who are sometimes referred to as business invitees.  An invitee goes onto another’s property in order to give a business benefit to the owner, like shopping at a store, or to enjoy the property if the property is opened to the public, such as a museum.  Property owners need to make sure that their property is reasonably safe from danger for invitees.  If the harm cannot be eliminated, then there needs to be adequate warning provided, such as those “Slippery when wet” signs that you see on the floor.

Keep in mind that if you were a licensee or an invitee originally, but then you went beyond the part of the property that you were invited to, then you may only qualify as a known or unknown trespasser.

With all of these different categories in mind, you can now decide what kind of duty the landowner owed to you when you were injured on their land. Once you have the duty figured out, then you can determine if they are liable for damages that you suffered.

By: Kristen Johnson, LegalMatch Staff Writer

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