A Landowner's Duty of Care to Others on Their Property
California Premises Liability Law
California premises liability law states that landowners owe a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to persons occupying their land. If they fail to do so, they may be held liable for any resulting injuries. The U.S. inherited much of its premise liability law from the common law courts of England.
Landowner Duty of Care
Duty of care is the responsibility all landowners have, whether of a public place or a residence, to ensure their property is safe for those visiting. While landowners can not account for every possible dangerous scenario, they are expected to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to those visiting their property.
Traditional common law rules for premises liability claims distinguish the landowner’s duty to protect against harmful conditions depending on whether a person was an “invitee,” “licensee,” or “trespasser.” Modern California law no longer relies on these categories to establish the landowner’s duty to protect others from defects on their property. Instead, California property owners are liable to injured plaintiffs for harms they sustained as a result of negligent acts or dangerous conditions on the property. However, those classes are helpful in evaluating whether or not the landowner’s actions were reasonable.
1. Duty to Invitees (Highest Duty)
Invitees are persons the landowner invites to enter the property. Landowners owe invitees the highest duty to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises free of dangerous defects. Examples of invitees include business customers who have come to patronize the landowner’s business. The landowner receives an economic benefit from invitees.
This duty requires the landowner to reasonably inspect the property for hazardous conditions any other reasonable landowner would discover. This implies that they can be liable for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition they were not actually aware of, if a similarly situated landowner would have otherwise discovered it through ordinary diligence.
2. Duty to Licensees (Medium Duty)
Licensees are invited onto the landowner’s property but not for providing an economic benefit. Examples of licensees include social guests, such as friends, family or neighbors. Unlike an invitee, the landowner does not owe a duty to inspect the property for any hazardous conditions. Instead, they must repair dangerous conditions or otherwise warn guests about such conditions if repair or removal is not reasonably feasible. A landowner's duty to a licensee is not as high as their duty to an invitee, but it is higher than the duty to a trespasser.
3. Duty to Trespassers (Lowest Duty)
Trespassers enter private property without the landowner’s consent. The landowner may or may not have actual knowledge of the trespasser’s presence on the land. Traditionally, a landowner was not considered negligent if a trespasser was harmed by a dangerous condition of which the landowner was unaware. Modernly, California landowners may still need to warn about dangerous conditions if they have reason to believe trespassers could be harmed by such conditions. With that being said, landowners owe trespassers the lowest duty of care in comparison to licensees or invitees.
Contact an Experienced Santa Clarita Premises Liability Attorney
Premises liability demands sophisticated knowledge and experience to effectively litigate a claim demanding compensatory damages for the plaintiff’s injuries, and ultimately receive a favorable judgment. Therefore, it is important for injured parties to consult with an experienced Santa Clarita premises liability lawyer.
At the Law Office of Robert J. Kaiser, our lead attorney has spent over 20 years practicing personal injury litigation, with invaluable experience in premises liability cases. Attorney Robert J. Kaiser is dedicated to zealously advocating for an injured plaintiff’s right to receive just recompense from a negligent landowner.