When you visit a museum, place of worship, hospital or store, the first thought that runs through your mind probably isn’t who will be liable if you get hurt while on the property. Generally, this kind of thinking doesn’t occur until you are hurt and have mounting medical expenses. If you find yourself in such an unfortunate circumstance, it’s vital to know your rights in premises liability.
Under the traditional rule followed in Texas, the nature of the duty owed by an owner or occupier of land to those on the premises for dangerous conditions on the land depends on the legal status of the plaintiff with regard to the property, i.e., was the plaintiff a trespasser, invitee, or licensee?
Trespasser and Duty Owed
A trespasser is someone who comes onto the land without permission or privilege. This would be like if you went to your neighbor’s yard and swam in his pool without permission. Generally, no duties are owed to a trespasser. So, if you swam in your neighbor’s pool and got a cut from one of the bricks lining the pool, tough luck; you’re a trespasser.
Licensee and Duty Owed
A licensee is someone who enters the land with the landowner’s permission, express or implied, for her own purpose or business rather than for the landowner’s benefit. This would be like if you’re going to visit your aunt in the hospital.
The owner or occupier owes a licensee a duty to warn of or make safe a dangerous condition known to the owner or occupier that creates an unreasonable risk of harm to the licensee and that the licensee is unlikely to discover. The owner or occupier has no duty to inspect for defects nor to repair known defects.
So, if you’re visiting your aunt at the hospital and sprain your ankle as a result of tripping on a loose tile, the hospital won’t be liable unless the hospital knew of the loose tile, and the loose tile was something you would be unlikely to reasonably discover on your own.
Invitee and Duty Owed
An invitee is someone who enters onto the premises in response to an express or implied invitation of the landowner. There are two types of invitees: First, there are those who enter as members of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open, e.g., museums, churches, and airports. Second, there are those who enter for a purpose connected with business or other interests of the landowner or occupier, e.g., store customers, employees, and persons making deliveries.
In regards to invitees, the landowner owes an invitee a general duty to use reasonable and ordinary care in keeping the property reasonably safe for the benefit of the invitee. This general duty includes the duties owed to licensees to warn of or make safe nonobvious, dangerous conditions, known to the landowner, plus a duty to make reasonable inspections to discover dangerous conditions and, thereafter, make them safe.
Let’s say the trip didn’t occur in a hospital but in a grocery store. In this situation, the store would be liable if the store failed to make a reasonable inspection.
As you can see, what you’re able to recover in these situations hinges on who you are. Regardless, always take care and be aware of your surroundings.