Premise Liability Law: An Overview

When one is injured while at the property of another, injured in a department store, or another type of property, a premise liability case arises. Premises liability refers to the legal responsibility that the property owner has towards anyone who is injured on the premises. Premise liability laws are implemented to give injured persons the right to file a claim against negligent proprietors. It makes the proprietor liable for injuries sustained by persons present on the property. To understand how these laws apply, it would help to know who are considered possessors of property and who the victims are.

Possessors of Property

Under the law, a person is deemed the possessor of the premises when he:

  1. occupies the land with intent to control it;
  2. occupies the land with intent to control it and no other person has subsequently occupied the land with intent to control it; or
  3. entitles to immediately occupy the land and no person is in possession as defined above.

Plaintiff in a Premise Liability Case

In most jurisdictions, it is essential to determine if the plaintiff was a "licensee", an "invitee" or a "trespasser". The defendant's liability varies depending on how the victim is classified.


As the name suggests, an invitee is a person invited to enter or remain in the premises for the commercial benefit of the possessor of the premises. An invitation could either be expressed or implied. Among all present in the premises, the owner owes the highest duty of care to an invitee. For instance, an owner of the department store is responsible for the injuries sustained by a shopper. A possessor is duty bound to protect an invitee from risks of harm from the dangerous conditions of their property if:

  1. the danger is unreasonable, and
  2. the possessor knows or could have known through the exercise of ordinary care the dangerous condition of the premises.

Consequently, the possessor is responsible to occasionally inspect the premises for any hazards.


A licensee is someone who is invited to enter or remain on the property for purposes other than business. A social guest is considered a licensee. When a licensee is injured, the possessor of the premises is liable only if the following elements are present:

  1. the possessor knew or should have known the dangerous condition of the premises and should have realized that the condition involved an unreasonable risk to the licensee who did not realize or discover the danger;
  2. the possessor failed to make necessary repairs to make the condition safe or to warn the licensee of the dangerous condition and the risks involved; and
  3. the licensee did not know or has no reason to know of the existence of the dangerous condition and the risk involved.


A person who enters the premises of another without an expressed or implied invitation and for one's personal purpose is called a trespasser. In entering the premises, the trespasser need not have an unlawful intent. Since the owner is not aware of the presence of the trespasser, he could not possibly inform him of the dangerous condition of the premises. In case the owner knows of the trespasser's presence, only the exercise of ordinary care is expected from him. Hence, before a victim could pursue a premise liability claim, he should identify under what category he belongs to. The law could be confusing but a premise liability attorney could help.

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