An invitee is a person who enters onto the property of another at the express or implied invitation of the property owner[i]. Different standards of care are applied depending on whether the visitor is considered an invitee, business guest, a licensee, a trespasser, or a child[ii].
An invitee is either a public invitee or a business visitor[iii]. A public invitee is one who is invited to enter or remain on the land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public[iv]. A business visitor is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land[v].
Further, a business visitor can be of two further categories. They are:
- persons who are invited to come upon the land for a purpose connected with the business for which the land is held open to the public,
- those who come upon land not open to the public, for a purpose connected with business which the possessor conducts upon the land, or for a purpose connected with their own business.
An invitee status can be established under any of the following doctrines:
- mutual benefit or
- implied invitation.
Under the mutual benefit theory, the invitee generally enters a business establishment for the purpose of purchasing goods or services[vi].
However, everyone invited to enter upon land is not recognized as invitees. A person entering premises on invitation will not enjoy the status of invitee unless the entry is made in connection with the business or purposes of the owner[vii]. Invitees are limited to those persons who enter or remain on land upon an invitation which carries an implied representation, assurance, or understanding that reasonable care will be used to prepare the premises, and make them safe for their reception[viii].
It is to be noted that the status of an invitee is not absolute but is limited by the scope of the invitation of the landowner. However, a visitor enjoys the status of an invitee while s/he is on the part of the land to which the invitation extends[ix].
In premises liability cases, an invitee is offered the utmost duty of care by the landowner. Invitees include patrons of stores, patients in a physician’s office, persons visiting a filling station to use the restroom or vending machine or to ask directions, and workmen invited to work on the premises.
An invitee is entitled to expect that the possessor will exercise reasonable care to make the land safe for the invitee’s entry or for his/her use[x]. Generally, a possessor of land is not liable to his/her invitees for physical harm caused to them by any activity or condition on the land whose danger is known to them.
The test for construing the scope of an invitation is objective and depends upon how a reasonable person interprets the purpose for which the land is held open and for which the possessor desires visitors to enter. Relevant considerations include the conduct of the possessor, the nature of the business conducted on the premises, and the arrangement and design of the premises[xi].
However, if an invitee goes outside the scope of an invitation, then his/her status may change. 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.
Therefore, any deviation from the scope of the invitation can reduce the status of an invitee and the duty of the possessor. Deviation from an invitation occurs when the invitee acts in a manner inconsistent with the scope of an express or implied invitation that brings a change in relationship between the invitee and the possessor[xii].
[i] Sims v. Giles, 343 S.C. 708 (S.C. Ct. App. 2001).
[iii] Moore V. Roellen Gin Co., 1984 Tenn. App. Lexis 2711 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 27, 1984).
[iv] Newton v. Pennsylvania. Iron & Coal, 85 Ohio App. 3d 353 (Ohio Ct. App., Montgomery County 1993).
[v] Hanson v. Town & Country Shopping Center, Inc., 259 Iowa 542 (Iowa 1966).
[vi] DeBoy v. City of Crisfield, 167 Md. App. 548 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2006).
[vii] Tucker v. Sullivan, 307 Ark. 440 (Ark. 1991).
[viii] Moore V. Roellen Gin Co., 1984 Tenn. App. Lexis 2711 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 27, 1984).
[ix] Conniff v. Waterland, Inc., 118 Ohio App. 3d 647 (Ohio Ct. App., Geauga County 1997).
[x] Argo v. Goodstein, 438 Pa. 468 (Pa. 1970).
[xi] Blair v. Ohio Dep’t of Rehabilitation & Correction, 61 Ohio Misc. 2d 649 (Ohio Ct. Cl. 1989).
[xii] Hogate v. Am. Golf Corp., 97 S.W.3d 44 (Mo. Ct. App. 2002).