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What is 'duty' and 'breach' in Connecticut premises liability?

This blog has previously discussed a few topics with regard to Connecticut premises liability law. In February we took a look at a very basic thumbnail sketch of the common-law format of negligence cases, and in January we touched on the basic statuses that a person who is on someone else's property may have. It turns out that these two concepts are related in terms of cases involving premises liability.

Readers may remember that the first element of a negligence case is showing that the defendant, that is, the person who caused the injury, had some form of duty to the injured party. When we speak of duty in this context, we mean a specific legal duty, not a more generalized moral duty, although the concepts may overlap. This is generally a question of law, which means it is normally decided by the judge in a jury trial, not the jury. A legal duty arises in cases where a reasonable person, taking all the circumstances into account, would find that a person in the defendant's situation would be required to act in a certain way toward another person. If this duty exists, and the defendant failed to do so, a breach of that duty may have occurred.

Now, when we discuss duty in the context of premises liability, we come back to the statuses of visitors Connecticut recognizes that we identified in the earlier post. As we touched on at that time the duty of care a landlord or premises owner owes to an individual who is present on the property. The highest duty is owed to invitees, as that person is there for the owner's benefit. This encompasses most commercial and retail liability cases. The duty owed to a licensee is somewhat lower as while they have permission to be there, they are not necessarily there for the benefit of the owner. Finally, trespassers, or those with no permission on the property are owed the lest duty, with the owner merely having not to set out to harm them by setting a trap, for instance.

As always, these are not "bright line" rules, and every set of facts will give rise to numerous questions and complications. There are also exceptions to the duties to various statuses, many times occurring when a case involves children. What is important to remember is that legal duty is the first hurdle that must be cleared in most premises liability cases. Since this post cannot serve as the basis for any legal action, Connecticut residents with questions about the law or facts of their individual cases may want to consider contacting an experienced lawyer.

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