Property Owners Have a Duty to Protect Visitors

If you have been injured due to an unsafe condition on another person’s property, are you able to hold the owner liable for your damages? The answer depends on the exact circumstances of your accident and the law of premises liability.

<atarget=”_blank” href=”https://farmoffice.osu.edu/our-library/premises-liability-law” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Premises liability is a legal theory under which property owners have certain duties to keep their premises free from safety hazards, so as to avoid injury to their guests. If they breach this duty, by failing to address a safety hazard they should have noticed, and a visitor is injured, the owner may be held liable for the injured person’s damages.

However, the extent of the owner’s duty can change according to the status of the visitor. Under Ohio law, the three recognized types of visitors are <atarget=”_blank” href=”https://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/12a0059p-06.pdf” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>trespassers, licensees and invitees.

A <atarget=”_blank” href=”http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2305.402″ rel=”noopener noreferrer”>trespasser is someone who does not have permission to be on the property. An owner doesn’t necessarily have a duty to remove all safety hazards from the property for the protection of trespassers. However, they can’t set traps or otherwise create hazards meant to hurt trespassers. Note that there are cases where a court will decide that a property owner had a higher duty if the owner reason to know that trespassers would come to the property and there was a high risk of them being hurt. For example, the owner of a swimming pool located near a grade school has reason to know that young children might trespass on the property and face a risk of drowning. Therefore, the owner should take reasonable steps to avoid an accident by, for instance, putting up a fence.

A licensee is someone who has permission to be on the property for their own purposes. For instance, a licensee might be a neighbor who has permission to use a shortcut through a backyard. A property owner has a duty to warn a licensee of any hidden safety hazards.

An invitee is a member of the public who is invited onto the premises for their own benefit and that of the owner. For example, a customer in a grocery store is considered an invitee. Property owners owe the highest duty to invitees. They should inspect the premises and repair any safety hazards as soon as possible so as to avoid the risk of a foreseeable accident.

A common type of premises liability lawsuit involves a grocery store customer who slips on a spilled liquid on a slick floor, falls to the ground and is injured. In such a case, the customer was an invitee. The court will likely find that the owner should have noticed the spill and cleaned it up quickly before anyone was hurt in a foreseeable accident. Therefore, the owner breached a duty to invitees and should be held liable for the injured person’s damages.

However, it’s important to note that there are other factors that can affect the outcome of a premises liability case.