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Duties Owed to Your Guests and Business Visitors in Your Home

When you invite someone to your home, what are the legal duties that you owe to him or her? Are all guests on your property, including trespassers, treated equally regarding the duties that are owed to them by the landowner or homeowner?

These questions and answers are governed by personal injury law, specifically, premises liability law. Like most negligence cases, property negligence cases require that a defendant (1) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff; (2) breached that duty; and (3) caused (4) damages or an injury to the plaintiff.

In Massachusetts, the courts created a common law duty of reasonable care which the occupier of a home owes to all lawful visitors.[1] This means that a jury decides whether the home owner breached a duty to a guest or business visitor based on a standard of “reasonable care.” This duty generally also extends to hazards arising from snow and ice.[2]

Usually, trespassers, unlike known guests and visitors, are afforded a lesser duty of reasonable care owed to them. For adult trespassers, a plaintiff may only recover damages from the property owner if the owner was “willful, wanton, and reckless” with regard to conduct. An exception to this rule is if the trespasser is a child or the trespasser had no choice but to trespass.[3]

Along these lines, a landowner owes a duty to remedy any “open and obvious” dangers that the landowner created and maintained. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court clarified this rule by holding that a landowner does not have a duty to warn others of open and obvious dangers on his or her lawn, but the landowner does have a duty to fix the danger or remedy it.[4]

Therefore, what do these legal rules mean for the average owner of a home or land? What steps should be taken by a landlord? In Massachusetts, homeowners and landowners must remedy any dangers on their property. For example, homeowners and landowners should not leave a trampoline beside a swimming pool without risk being held liable for damages. They should not leave open ditches or holes in the ground. They must not allow a child to have access to a swimming pool. Landowners must consider what the foreseeable dangers are on their land, and they must remedy them.

Personal injury cases are often fact dependent and complex. They require an astute legal professional to handle the matter in a technical fashion. If you have any questions about personal injury matters, call us for a free consultation at 617-657-HURT (4878) or fill out our contact form here.

[1] Mounsey v. Ellard, 363 Mass. 693, 707 (1973)

[2] Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., 457 Mass. 368 (2010)

[3] Mounsey, 363 Mass. at 693

[4] Dos Santos v.Coleta, 2013 Mass. LEXIS 336, 1-33 (May 15, 2013)

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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