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Premises Liability Overview: Licensees, Invitees, and Trespassers

Property or premises liability complaints are often a result of accidents, such as slip and fall accidents. They may also occur from hazardous conditions, such as fumes or odors.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts generally identifies three types of visitors on another’s property. The first is a licensee, or social guest. Licensees are welcome to enter a property, most typically for a social reason. They may include friends, family, and acquaintances. The second type of visitor is known as an invitee, and these people visit a property for a business-related reason. Customers or people arriving for business purposes are included in this group. Finally, the third category includes trespassers, and they have no permission to enter the property.

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. Mark is Alan’s best friend. He is invited to hang out with Alan each Friday at Alan’s home. They frequently meet on Friday nights to watch sports and catch up on the latest events that happen in their lives. One Friday, Mark arrives to Alan’s home and trips when he stumbles on a doorstop that Alan purchased the day before. Mark badly injures his left knee and requires surgery. He misses time from work.

  1. On a snowy December evening, a single mom of three minors needs gas on her way home from work. She stops at a local gas station. As she begins to walk toward the convenience store to pay with cash, she slips and falls on black ice, causing substantial injury to her body. Her children are also affected by her injury, as they do not have another parental figure to care for them.

  2. Joe, a high school student, takes a shortcut on his way home from school one spring afternoon. His shortcut takes him through an acre of land owned by an elderly woman named Ethel. Although she tries to care for her property, Ethel has not been able to care for it in the way that she did at a younger age. While walking, Joe trips on a considerable crack in one of the concrete slabs on Ethel’s patio. He hits his head, suffers a substantial injury, and recovers only after several months of treatment. His injury forces him to miss the remainder of the year at school.

Each of the above scenarios relates to property or premises law and tort liability. The question is: May any of the above people successfully obtain relief from their suffering? Can either of them file a lawsuit and receive monetary damages?

Generally, Massachusetts law requires that property owners owe a duty of reasonable care to licensees and invitees. Property owners may owe a duty of reasonable care and be liable to some trespassers, but only if the property owner was willful, wanton, or reckless in his or her behavior toward the trespasser. This means that a property owner cannot intentionally coordinate a trap to injure the potential or actual trespasser. If a hazardous condition exists for a trespasser, the owner should remove or fix the condition.

Circling back to the above examples:

  1. Mark would likely be considered to be a licensee. This means that Alan owes Mark a duty of care to host Mark and provide a safe home free from items that could injure his friend. Alan may be liable to Mark for his injuries and his lost time from work.

  1. In this example, the mom might be considered to be an invitee. Because she injures on the property of the gas station, she could possibly file a suit for her injuries. Suppose that the mom walked through the gas station and did not use the gas station for a business purpose, but instead, used the premises for another purpose--in that example, she might not be considered to be an invitee and could possibly be in the next class of visitors, a trespasser.

  2. Joe is a trespasser. While Joe may or may not be able to file a suit for his injuries, it would likely be undisputed that Joe was not invited on Ethel’s property. In order to prevail in a suit against Ethel, Joe will have to argue that the condition was hazardous and dangerous and that Ethel should have maintained her property better. He would also likely argue that she knew he frequently trekked on her land and that he was a “known” visitor, which may impose some liability on Ethel.

The above are but a few examples about property and premises liability. If you have any questions about issues involving licensees, invitees, trespassers, or other personal injury law issues, contact a competent personal injury law attorney. Our experienced professionals may be able to work on behalf of you to help you to receive compensation for lost wages, medical costs, pain and suffering, or other damages. Please contact our offices at your earliest convenience by phone at 978-225-9030 or complete a contact form on our website. We will return your inquiry with prompt attention.

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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