A person may be upon another’s property as an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser[i]. A licensee is a person privileged by virtue of proper consent to enter for his/her own purpose or convenience onto another’s property[ii]. In other words, a licensee is a person who is privileged to enter or remain upon land by virtue of the possessor’s consent. When a licensee enters onto the property of another, the primary benefit is to the licensee and not to the property owner[iii]. Therefore, 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[iv].
There are two types of licensees, a bare licensee and a licensee by invitation. A bare licensee is one who enters upon the land or property of another without objection, or by mere permission, sufferance, or acquiescence of the owner or occupier[v]. S/he is not owed any duty by the owner except that s/he may not be willfully or wantonly injured or entrapped by the owner once his/her presence is known. A licensee by invitation is a social guest who takes the premises as his/her host uses them[vi].
However, if a visitor who enters a premises as an invitee exceeds the scope of the invitation, then such a visitor may be classified as either a trespasser, or at most a gratuitous or a bare licensee. The only obligation that a landowner owes to a gratuitous licensee is to refrain from willful, wanton, and reckless misconduct tending to injure the licensee[vii].
An injured person is considered a licensee if s/he entered premises to seek a favor, to make inquiries or ask directions, to do volunteer work, to use recreational facilities without asking specific permission, to recover an item of personal property left on the premises, to obtain some article of value given to the licensee by the occupant, or while chasing his/her dog[viii].
Similarly, a member of a family or household group or group of acquaintances rendering friendly help in household routine does not cease to be a licensee or social visitor unless the character or circumstances of the assistance make it clear regarding the dominant aspect of the relationship rather than a routine incident of social or group activities[ix].
It is to be noted that a possessor of land only owes a duty to licensees of a definite legal character. The duty does not include ordinary risks incident to the condition of the premises. The possessor is not bound to employ care to protect such persons coming on to his/her premises from ordinary risks. However, a licensee is not liable to assume the risk of extraordinary concealed perils against which s/he cannot protect himself/herself. Further, anything in the nature of a trap or hidden peril highly dangerous to life or limb is a risk that comes within the duty of care imposed upon the possessor[x].
A license may result from an invitation making one a licensee or an invitee. The real difference is the purpose of the invitation. If the invitation relates to the business of the person who gives it or for the mutual advantage of both parties of a business nature, then the party receiving it is an invitee. Whereas, if it is an invitation for the convenience, pleasure, or benefit of the person enjoying the privilege, it is only a license and the person receiving it is a licensee[xi].
[i] Fitzgerald v. Montgomery County Board of Education, 25 Md. App. 709 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1975).
[ii] Bramble v. Thompson, 264 Md. 518 (Md. 1972).
[iii] Sims v. Giles, 343 S.C. 708 (S.C. Ct. App. 2001).
[iv] Alexander v. General Acci. Fire & Life Assurance Corp., 98 So. 2d 730 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1957).
[v] Mann v. Des Moines R. Co., 232 Iowa 1049 (Iowa 1942).
[vi] Laser v. Wilson, 58 Md. App. 434 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1984).
[vii] Colbert v. Ricker, 314 Mass. 138 (Mass. 1943).
[viii] Sims v. Giles, 343 S.C. 708 (S.C. Ct. App. 2001).
[ix] Pandiscio v. Bowen, 342 Mass. 435 (Mass. 1961).
[x] Scheibel v. Lipton, 156 Ohio St. 308 (Ohio 1951).
[xi] Roan v. Bruckner, 180 Neb. 399 (Neb. 1966).