If you own land or property, you may be unsure of your legal obligations and responsibilities regarding injuries sustained by individuals on your property, particularly those who weren’t invited. This area of the law is known as premises liability.
A premise liability case requires proof of four elements:
- The property owner had actual or constructive knowledge about a dangerous condition;
- The condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm;
- The property owner failed to take reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and
- The risk was the proximate cause of the injuries.
These elements must all be satisfied for a plaintiff to have a successful case. But what if the person on your property wasn’t actually invited?
The status of the plaintiff on the property can help determine their eligibility for compensation. There are three possible statuses: invitee, licensee, and trespasser.
Invitee: An invitee is someone who was invited onto the property for business purposes, such as a customer at a store. The standard of care that property owners owe to invitees includes the duty to warn of known dangerous conditions and to inspect the property for hidden risks. This duty extends to all areas of the property that are open to invitees.
Licensee: A licensee is someone who was invited onto the property for social purposes, such as a guest at a party. For licensees, property owners only have a duty to warn of dangers that the licensee is unlikely to discover on their own.
Trespasser: A trespasser is someone who was on the property without permission. For trespassers, property owners only have a duty to avoid intentionally harming them:
“An owner, lessee, or occupant of land does not owe a duty of care to a trespasser on the land and is not liable for any injury to a trespasser on the land, except that an owner, lessee, or occupant owes a duty to refrain from injuring a trespasser willfully, wantonly, or through gross negligence.”
What is Gross Negligence?
Texas statute defines “gross negligence” as an act or omission that:
- When viewed objectively from the standpoint of the actor at the time of its occurrence involves an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others; and
- Of which the actor has actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.
In State v. Shumake, the court discusses what gross negligence is:
In this case, a family filed a lawsuit against a state park after their son was injured in a hidden culvert on park property. The family was able to prove that the state park was aware of the culvert and had failed to remedy the danger or provide warning. The court held that this satisfied the heightened standard for liability, and the family was awarded damages for their son’s injuries.
How Landowners Can Protect Themselves
There are some steps that landowners can take to minimize their risk of liability for trespasser injuries.
First, landowners should be aware of and identify any dangerous conditions on their property. If a hazardous condition is discovered, the landowner should take reasonable measures to remedy it.
Second, landowners should consider posting signs alerting trespassers to any potential dangers on the property.
Finally, landowners should consult with an experienced attorney to ensure that their property is in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.
If you are a property owner facing a San Antonio premises liability lawsuit, you need the assistance of an experienced attorney who understands the law. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.