Public Officers and Employees

The liability of a possessor of land to a public officer or employee who enters the land in the performance of his/her public duty, and suffers harm because of a condition of a part of the land held open to the public, is the same as the liability to an invitee[i].  A possessor of land has a duty to an invitee to reasonably inspect and maintain the premises in order to render them reasonably safe.  In order to consider an area of the premises open to the public as a matter of law, there must be some sort of public function or traditional business purposes.  Therefore, the mere fact that an area of private property is not closed to the public does not establish that it is open to the public as a matter of law[ii].

A landowner is liable for injuries to business invitees and licensees, such as invited salespersons and letter carriers, for injuries caused by latent or concealed perils that are known to the landowner.  A mailman is an invitee to whom a homeowner owes a duty to exercise ordinary care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition so as not to injure him/her.  A mailman is on the premises in response to an express or implied invitation for a mutually beneficial business purpose[iii].  However, in Schwartz v. Selvage, 203 Neb. 158 (Neb. 1979), it was observed that if a mailman going up and down a homeowner’s steps and falls, then s/he cannot claim recovery as the condition of the steps is obvious to him/her.

Generally, firemen cannot recover for injuries attributable to negligence that requires their assistance.  A fireman may not recover when s/he is injured from the very risk, created by a defendant’s act of negligence that required his/her professional assistance and presence at the scene[iv].

It is to be noted that policemen and firemen enter a premise at any time due to an emergency, and they go to parts of the premises where people ordinarily would not go.  Their presence cannot reasonably be anticipated by an owner, since there is no regularity as to their appearance[v].  The duty of an owner of private premises towards policemen and firemen who come upon his/her premises by authority of law in the performance of their official duties and suffer injury must be only that duty owed to a licensee, and that the owner must only be liable if such injury is inflicted by[vi]:

  • willful or wanton misconduct, or
  • active negligence, or
  • a violation of a duty created by statute for the benefit of policemen or firemen, or
  • a hidden trap caused the injury or where the owner had knowledge of the presence of the policeman or fireman on the premises and the opportunity to warn him of the danger and failed to do so.

 

It is to be noted that in some jurisdictions, policemen and firemen who are privileged to enter premises in the course of their duties as public officers without reference to any express or implied invitation from the owner are equal to a business invitee.  Whereas, in some other jurisdictions, they have the status of a licensee[vii].  When a police officer enters another’s land to perform a lawful duty, s/he cannot be treated as a trespasser[viii].  Further, 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.  This rule is limited to cases involving injuries occurring as the result of conditions on areas of the premises not open to the public[ix].

[i] Grzybowski v. Faraci Manor, Inc., 1993 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1325 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 24, 1993).

[ii] Segarra v. Elec. Wholesalers, Inc., 2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1323 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 22, 2007).

[iii] Dunnings v. Castro, 881 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. App. Houston 1st Dist. 1994).

[iv] Carpenter v. O’Day, 562 A.2d 595 (Del. Super. Ct. 1988).

[v] Hack v. Gillespie, 74 Ohio St. 3d 362 (Ohio 1996).

[vi] Id.

[vii] Nared v. School Dist., 191 Neb. 376 (Neb. 1974).

[viii] Mounsey v. Ellard, 363 Mass. 693 (Mass. 1973).

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


Inside Public Officers and Employees