When Are Property Owners Responsible for Injuries on Their Premises?

Property owners and non-owner residents (renters) can be held liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property due to unsafe conditions. The general rule is that a person who occupies property with the intent to control it owes certain duties to persons who come on the property. This is known as “premises liability,” and means that property owners and residents can be liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property.

The extent, if any, of the “duty” a property owner owes to persons on his property depends on the status of the injured person. In Washington, a person who is present on another individual’s property falls into one of three categories: an invitee, a licensee or a trespasser.

Invitee

A property owner or non-owner resident owes the highest duty of care to invitees. An invitee can be a “business invitee” or a “public invitee” depending on the circumstance surrounding their entry onto the property, and the extent of the duties that a property owner owes varies depending on which category the invitee falls within.  With respect to either variety of invitee, a property owner must use reasonable care in discovering and protecting against dangerous conditions on the premises, even known or obvious dangers, if the property owner should anticipate harm to the invitee.

Licensee

A licensee is a person who enters property with the owner’s express or implied permission. A social guest, for example, is considered a licensee. In Washington, a property owner owes a duty of care to a licensee or social guest if (1) there is a known dangerous condition on the property, and (2) the possessor can reasonably anticipate the licensee either will not discover the condition or will not realize the risks that the dangerous condition poses. The property owner must (1) make the dangerous condition safe, or (2) warn the licensee or social guest of its existence.  Property owners may not have a duty to protect licensees from “natural conditions” existing on the property, if the natural conditions present open and apparent dangers that would put a reasonable person on notice to be careful and proceed at his or her own risk.

Trespasser

A trespasser is a person who enters the property of another without an invitation or permission. In general, there is no implied promise that reasonable care has been made to assure the safety of the property. However, if a property owner knows that it is likely trespassers will enter the property, her or she may have a duty to give reasonable warning to prevent injury.

Premises liability issues are often complicated. Whether a person is classified as an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser is usually a question of law for the court. If you were injured while present on another person’s property, or have questions about premises liability contact Baumgartner, Nelson & Wager, PLLC at (360) 694-4344. We serve clients in Southwest Washington and the Portland-Metro area.