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Determination of Status

Generally, the status of a person entering the land of another is characterized as follows[i]:

  • invitee,
  • licensee, and
  • trespasser.


Different standards of care are provided depending upon whether a visitor is an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser.

An invitee is a person who enters onto the property of another at the express or implied invitation of the property owner. The invitees designation is limited to those persons who enter or remain on land upon an invitation which carries with it an implied representation, assurance, or understanding that reasonable care was used to prepare the premises, and make them safe for their reception.  The visitor is considered an invitee especially when s/he is upon a matter of mutual interest or advantage to the property owner[ii].

An invitee may fall within one of three categories such as public invitee, business visitor, or social guest, to each of whom the landowner owes a duty of reasonable care[iii].  It is to be noted that the owner of property owes to an invitee or business visitor the duty of exercising reasonable or ordinary care for his/her safety, and is liable for injuries resulting from the breach of such duty.  The landowner has a duty to warn an invitee only of latent or hidden dangers of which the landowner has knowledge[iv].

However, a person may be an invitee as to certain parts of the premises but not as to others.  The occupant may be held liable only where it appears that the victim sustains the injury while using a part of the premises which is designed for his/her accommodation or use.  A recovery is not sustainable where the evidence leads to the conclusion that it could not be reasonably anticipated that s/he would attempt to go to the place in which the injury occurs[v].

If an invitee involuntarily moves from the area encompassed by the original invitation to another part of the landowner’s premises, s/he may retain his/her status as an invitee.  However, if an invitee voluntarily exceeds the area to which the original invitation extends and goes to another area, then s/he loses his/her status as an invitee.

Whereas, a licensee is a person who is privileged to enter or remain upon land by virtue of the possessor’s consent.  In other words, a licensee is one who enters the premises with the express or implied permission of the possessor for his/her own purposes which has no connection with the interests of the possessor[vi].  The duty of a landowner is to warn of known dangers which the licensee is unlikely to discover and to refrain from wanton negligence or willful misconduct[vii].

A trespasser is one who intentionally and without consent or privilege enters another’s property.  The only duty of care a property owner owes to a trespasser is to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring the intruder[viii].  A landowner is not liable for injury to a trespasser caused by the landowner’s failure to exercise reasonable care to put his/her land in a safe condition for the trespasser, or to carry on his/her activities in a manner which does not endanger the trespasser[ix].

It is to be noted that a licensee who goes beyond the rights and privileges granted by the license become a trespasser.  Thus, a person who is invited or permitted to enter a particular part of the land becomes a trespasser if s/he enters another part of the land.  If a person while lawfully on the property of another as an invitee leaves that portion of the property on which s/he has been invited, or uses the property on a venture in his/her own interests and not within the scope of his/her invitation, then s/he loses his/her status as an invitee and becomes a trespasser or mere licensee[x].

Similarly, sometimes a worker on premises loses his/her status as invitee when the worker exceeds the scope of the work.  If the invitee goes outside of the area of his/her invitation, then s/he becomes a trespasser or a licensee[xi].  It is to be noted that in premises liability cases, an invitee is offered the utmost duty of care by a landowner and a trespasser is generally offered the least[xii].

[i] Frye v. Trustees of the Rumbletown Free Methodist Church, 657 N.E.2d 745 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995).

[ii] Sims v. Giles, 343 S.C. 708 (S.C. Ct. App. 2001).

[iii] Frye v. Trustees of the Rumbletown Free Methodist Church, 657 N.E.2d 745 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995).

[iv] Lanier Constr. Co. v. Bailey & Yobs, Inc., 384 S.C. 275 (S.C. Ct. App. 2009).

[v] Burton Constr. & Shipbuilding Co. v. Broussard, 154 Tex. 50 (Tex. 1954).

[vi] Alexander v. General Acci. Fire & Life Assurance Corp., 98 So. 2d 730 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1957).

[vii] Pinal v. Ocean Ship Supply, 410 So. 2d 1007 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 1982).

[viii] Bramble v. Thompson, 264 Md. 518 (Md. 1972).

[ix] Miller v. General Motors Corp., 207 Ill. App. 3d 148 (Ill. App. Ct. 4th Dist. 1990).

[x] Burton Constr. & Shipbuilding Co. v. Broussard, 154 Tex. 50 (Tex. 1954).

[xi] Sims v. Giles, 343 S.C. 708 (S.C. Ct. App. 2001).

[xii] Id.

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