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Duty Owed Licensees

A possessor of premises on which a licensee intrudes owes a licensee the duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring him/her.  A social guest has the status of a licensee and his/her host owes him/her only the duty to refrain from willfully, intentionally, or recklessly injuring him/her[i].  The basic rule is that a possessor of land does not owe any duty to a licensee as to maintenance[ii].  A licensor must give reasonable notice or warning to licensees if s/he does any positive act creating a new concealed danger.  Such a danger must be highly dangerous to life and limb; it must be inherent in the instrumentality or condition itself such that special precautions are required to be taken to prevent injury[iii].

The duty of a possessor not to injure a licensee willfully or wantonly includes the obligation not to lay for him/her or permit existence of pitfalls or mantraps in which it may be reasonably anticipated s/he will become ensnared.  The possessor of the land must not create an entrapment to the danger of a licensee unless s/he discloses its existence or warns against its hazards[iv].

A possessor of land is subject to liability for bodily harm caused to gratuitous licensees by a natural or artificial condition if s/he knows of the condition and realizes that it involves an unreasonable risk to them and has reason to believe that they will not discover the condition or realize the risk.  Moreover, the possessor invites or permits them to enter or remain upon the land, without exercising reasonable care to make the condition reasonably safe, or to warn them of the condition and the risk involved[v].

Licensees are divided mainly into 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[vi].  A licensee by invitation is a social guest who takes the premises as his/her host uses them[vii].

It is to be noted that under some circumstances, moral and humanitarian consideration may require one to render assistance to another who was injured, although the injury was not due to the negligence on his/her part and caused by the negligence of the injured party.  Failure to render assistance in such a situation may constitute actionable negligence if the injury is aggravated through lack of due care[viii].

In some jurisdictions, no duty is imposed on an owner or occupant to keep the premises in a safe condition for those who come there solely for their own convenience or pleasure, and who were not either expressly invited to enter or induced to come, although their entry is permitted by the owner or occupant.  For example, the owner of a building in a populous city does not have a duty at common law to keep such building safe for firemen or other officers, who, in a contingency, may enter the same under a license conferred by law[ix].

Some jurisdictions abolished the distinction between invitees and licensees and held that the duty owed by an occupier of land to both categories is one of reasonable care under all the circumstances[x].

[i] Little by Little v. Bell, 719 So. 2d 757 (Miss. 1998).

[ii] Bichsel v. Blumhost, 429 S.W.2d 301 (Mo. Ct. App. 1968).

[iii] Gaboury v. Ireland Rd. Grace Brethren, Inc., 446 N.E.2d 1310 (Ind. 1983).

[iv] Bichsel v. Blumhost, 429 S.W.2d 301 (Mo. Ct. App. 1968).

[v] Marlon Inv. Co. v. Conner, 246 Miss. 343 (Miss. 1963).

[vi] Mann v. Des Moines R. Co., 232 Iowa 1049 (Iowa 1942).

[vii] Laser v. Wilson, 58 Md. App. 434 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1984).

[viii] Tubbs v. Argus, 140 Ind. App. 695 (Ind. Ct. App. 1967).

[ix] Woodruff v. Bowen, 136 Ind. 431 (Ind. 1893).

[x] Mozier v. Parsons, 256 Kan. 769 (Kan. 1995).

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