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To whom do property owners have a legal duty?

Readers of this blog may remember that in the past we have discussed the basic tenets of negligence law as provided by the common law. This week, we will look into the concept of to whom a property owner owes a duty.

A hallmark of American premises liability law is the different status individuals have when they enter premises owned by another. The status of the person on the property affects the duty the property owner has toward that individual. In Connecticut, there are three basic statuses a visitor to a premises can have. These are: as an invitee, a licensee or a trespasser. An invitee is a person who enters the property for the benefit of the owner, or for their mutual benefit.

This covers a vast majority of premises liability cases, as it is the basic status of customers or clients coming to do business on commercial property. Licensees are similar to invitees in that they have the owner's permission to be on the property, but are not necessarily there to benefit the property owner. Trespassers are people who enter the property without the owner's consent.

The duty a property owner owes to each of these categories of visitors is somewhat different. The largest duty is owed to invitees. An owner is duty-bound to inspect the property and repair or erect safeguards to any hidden dangers on the premises, and make them reasonably safe. For licensees, while the owner may have no duty to repair or erect safeguards, he may be liable if there he does not warn a licensee of a hidden danger that the owner knew about.

Because a trespasser normally enters without a property owner's knowledge, the owner generally does not owe a duty of care to a trespasser, though there are exceptions. One is that the owner cannot lay a trap for a trespasser, or intentionally harm him or her. The second exception has to do with trespassing children, when the owner has reason to think they may enter the property, he might have a special duty to keep them away from hazards that exist.

While the above may seem clear cut, in practice, the application of various statuses and duties to any specific fact pattern may be fraught with complications. Those who want to seek compensation from a negligent property owner may wish to consider contacting a Connecticut personal injury attorney.

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Bridgeport, CT 06604

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