In the legal world, these cases are often referred to as “premises liability” claims. The legal analysis of each of these cases first involves determining the proper characterization of the person injured. Once the proper characterization is determined, the legal duty owed to the person by the landowner can be set. Most states separate the characterizations into three categories; business invitee, social guest and trespasser. Not many duties are owed to a trespasser. Other than refraining from intentionally injuring a person who comes into your property unwanted, there isn’t much you have to do to comply with the duty of care to a trespasser. You owe more duties to a social guest, someone who comes upon your property with express of implied permission. A friend you ask over for dinner or an electrical meter technician entering into your backyard, are both examples of this category. For these people, an owner of the property has a duty to fix or warn them about any known hazards or dangers that exist which aren’t open and obvious to the average person. An example of compliance with this duty is a “beware of dog” sign posted on a shut gate. Finally, a business invitee gives the owner of the property the highest of duties. This is because a business invitee is usually lured onto the premises by the owner in the hopes of relieving them of their wallet. Whenever we enter a store we are considered business invitees. The owner of a store must not only fix or warn customers about any known hazards in the store, they are required to occasionally inspect their premises for hazards created by other customers. If a customer is injured as a result of a hazard within a store, the owner is responsible for the injury if they knew of the hazard beforehand and failed to clean it up or warn customers. A slippery substance spilled on the floor by another customer is an example. However, because of the special business invitee rule, the store owner is still responsible for an injury to a customer even if they were not aware of the danger. The customer need only prove they should have known about it from the length of time it was allowed to remain upon the floor.
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