Duty Owed to Particular Classes of Persons

A landowner owes certain duties to particular classes of persons such as social guests, elderly people, firemen, policemen, and family members.  A landowner possesses a duty to warn if s/he is aware that a person within the home may present a threat.  However, a person does not owe any duty to warn those endangered by the conduct of another generally[i].  There is no special relationship that exists between a host and a guest that imposes on a social host a duty either to control one guest or to protect another when one threatens to injure the other[ii].

The only duty of a host is not to injure a guest by active or affirmative negligence.  It includes not setting a trap or pitfall for the guest, to warn against or remove defects which the landlord knows are likely to cause harm to the guest, and which s/he has reason to believe the guest is not likely to discover for himself/herself[iii].  It is to be noted that a member of the household who pays board or gives other valuable consideration for his/her residence on the premises is recognized as an invitee to whom the owner of the premises owes a duty to use reasonable care.

A guest or a member of the family of a tenant has no higher rights against a landlord than the tenant himself has.  Further, if a landlord discovers a latent defect after the beginning of a tenancy, s/he does not have any obligation to communicate it to the tenant[iv].  In some jurisdictions, a tenant cannot recover against his/her landlord for personal injuries occasioned by the defective condition of the premises, unless the landlord agrees to repair and is negligent in making them[v].

It is to be noted that a premise owner is not an insurer of the safety of such employees who must exercise reasonable care for their own safety.  It was observed in Curtis v. DeAtley, 104 Idaho 787 (Idaho 1983) that homeowners were not liable for injuries sustained by a live in cook housekeeper when the chandelier she was cleaning fell and struck her and there was no evidence that it was negligently installed.

A possessor of land has a duty to an invitee to reasonably inspect and maintain the premises in order to render them reasonably safe.  If an invitee goes to a portion of the premises to which s/he is not authorized by the invitation, s/he loses his/her status as an invitee, and becomes a mere licensee.  In that case, the owner is not liable for injuries resulting from an unsafe condition of that portion of the premises[vi].

In Lundy v. Groty, 141 Mich. App. 757 (Mich. Ct. App. 1985), it was observed that the age of an invitee must be considered by a homeowner and s/he must take reasonable care to protect the invitee.  In this case, an action by a 70-year-old woman, who worked for the homeowner as a housekeeper and babysitter, fell down when she stepped out of her car as she arrived for work while it was snowing.  The issue was whether the homeowner owed plaintiff a duty because s/he must know that falling snow can create a dangerous condition for an elderly person.  It was observed by the court that a business invitor is required to take reasonable measures within a reasonable time after the accumulation of ice and snow to diminish the hazard of injury to an invitee.

A social guest is considered an invitee, as to whom the duty of the owner of the premises is not to insure him/her against the possibility of accident, but to exercise reasonable or ordinary care for his/her safety commensurate with the particular circumstances involved[vii].  A social guest by invitation must be provided greater care than a licensee.  It is to be noted that an owner or occupier is liable to firemen or policemen injured as a result of a violation of a statutory duty created for the express benefit of such persons.  However, this rule is limited to cases involving injuries occurring as the result of conditions on areas of the premises not open to the public[viii].

[i] Patzwald v. Krey, 390 N.W.2d 920 (Minn. Ct. App. 1986).

[ii] Gilger v. Hernandez, 2000 UT 23 (Utah 2000).

[iii] Shaw v. Wiegartz, 1 Mich. App. 271 (Mich. Ct. App. 1965).

[iv] Corcione v. Ruggieri, 87 R.I. 182 (R.I. 1958).

[v] Miles v. Janvrin, 196 Mass. 431 (Mass. 1907).

[vi] Packard v. Kennedy, 4 Ill. App. 2d 177 (Ill. App. Ct. 1955).

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

[viii] Pearson v. Canada Contracting Co., 232 Va. 177 (Va. 1986).


Inside Duty Owed to Particular Classes of Persons