Generally, social guests are considered licensees who assume the ordinary risks associated with their visit[i]. Although a social guest is normally invited, s/he is not an invitee within the legal meaning of that term[ii]. There is no duty on the part of a host to reconstruct or improve the premises for the purpose of making his/her house more convenient or more safe for those accepting his/her hospitality, gratuitously extended. A guest is supposed to assume the ordinary risks that attach to the premises[iii].
Under some jurisdictions, a social guest is classified as a licensee for purposes of determining what legal duty a landowner owes to that person. The duty generally owed to a licensee is for the landowner to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring the licensee. A willful or wanton act is one that exceeds ordinary negligence and rises to a conscious disregard of a known, serious danger[iv]. It is necessary for a guest to prove gross negligence in order to recover from his/her host[v].
It is to be noted that a social guest is given the status of a gratuitous licensee and the liability of possessors of land to gratuitous licensees is stated as follows: A possessor of land is subject to liability for bodily harm caused to gratuitous licensees by a natural or artificial condition only if, s/he[vi]:
- 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, and
- invites or permits them to enter or remain upon the land, without exercising reasonable care:
(i) to make the condition reasonably safe, or
(ii) to warn them of the condition and the risk involved.
It is to be noted that social guests are placed in a special classification and the duties owing to them to fall somewhere between those owed to licensees and invitees. In order to be classified as a social guest, there must be evidence of an actual invitation the host extended to the guest, express or implied. On the basis of that invitation, a social guest is thought to be on the premises presumably giving the possessor some personal benefit[vii].
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[viii].
A social guest by invitation must be provided greater care than a licensee. A host owes an invited social guest the following duty[ix]:
- To exercise ordinary care not to cause injury to his/her guest by any act of the host or by any activities carried on by the host while the guest is on the premises, and
- To warn the guest of any condition of the premises which is known to the host and which one of ordinary prudence and foresight in the position of the host reasonably consider to be dangerous, if the host has reason to believe that the guest does not know and will not discover such dangerous condition.
It is a well settled general rule that the duties and liabilities of a landlord to persons on a leased premise by a license of a tenant are same as those owed to the tenant himself/herself. On such occasions, visitors, customers, servants, employees and licensees in of a tenant are treated as guests of the tenant, and not of the landlord[x].
Generally, a land owner has no duty to take protective measures from the conduct of third persons which is likely to endanger the safety of the visitor. It is to be noted that a land owner may be liable to a visitor for physical harm caused by the intentional acts of third persons, but s/he is not an insurer of the visitor’s safety[xi]. In order to determine the foreseeability of a criminal activity by a land owner, a court must consider the location, nature and extent of those previous criminal activities and their similarity, proximity or other relationship to the crime in question[xii].
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[xiii]. It is to be noted that no special relationship 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[xiv].
[i] Burnett v. Bruner, 247 Mich. App. 365 (Mich. Ct. App. 2001).
[ii] Goerbig V. Van Koevering, 1999 Mich. App. Lexis 1109 (Mich. Ct. App. May 28, 1999).
[iii] Burnett v. Bruner, 247 Mich. App. 365 (Mich. Ct. App. 2001).
[iv] Sample v. Haga, 824 So. 2d 627 (Miss. Ct. App. 2001).
[v] Smith v. Allen, 297 F.2d 235 (4th Cir. Va. 1961).
[vi] Smith v. Allen, 297 F.2d 235 (4th Cir. Va. 1961).
[vii] White v. Brinegar, 1994 Ohio App. LEXIS 2425 (Ohio Ct. App., Summit County June 1, 1994).
[viii] Alexander v. General Acci. Fire & Life Assurance Corp., 98 So. 2d 730 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1957).
[ix] Hamm v. Heritage Professional Services, Inc., 1993 Ohio App. LEXIS 2049 (Ohio Ct. App., Scioto County Apr. 9, 1993).
[x] Elbers v. Standard Oil Co., 331 Ill. App. 207 (Ill. App. Ct. 1947).
[xi] Wolfer v. Getman, 221 A.D.2d 969 (N.Y. App. Div. 4th Dep’t 1995).
[xii] Altholz v. Westdale Asset Mgmt., 2004 Tex. App. LEXIS 3637 (Tex. App. Dallas Apr. 26, 2004).
[xiii] Patzwald v. Krey, 390 N.W.2d 920 (Minn. Ct. App. 1986).
[xiv] Gilger v. Hernandez, 2000 UT 23 (Utah 2000).