You’re enjoying some quality time with a friend at their house when the unthinkable happens. You sustain an injury due to something on the property that is unsafe.
This injury might put you in a tough situation. You don’t want to get stuck with sky-high medical bills, but you don’t want to sue your friend, either. The good news is that if your friend has homeowners or renter’s insurance, the insurance company will be the one who pays for the damages.
However, before the claim can be settled, a few issues need to be determined, mainly, whether your friend was negligent and whether his negligence was the cause of your injury. A significant part of the negligence analysis pertains to whether your friend had a duty to provide you with a safe place and whether he breached that duty of care.
Standard of Care Owed by Possessor and Owners of Land
When it comes to analyzing whether a landowner can be held liable for an injury sustained on his property, the law traditionally looks at the relationship between the landowner and the injured person.
Relationship, in this case, doesn’t refer to how well you know your friend or if you’re related in some way. Instead, the term is defined by whether you’re a trespasser, licensee, or invitee.
The standard of care that the landowner owes will vary based on this classification. In most situations, you will likely be considered a licensee. Still, it’s helpful to be familiar with the three different types of visitors because there may be overlap, or your status may change during your visit.
A trespasser is someone who enters the land possessor’s property illegally, meaning without consent or necessity. In these situations, the landowner generally has no duty to warn or make a condition safe. However, there are exceptions if the hazard is artificial (as in something man-made), and it can cause serious bodily harm or death. Even then, the owner of the land must be aware that the hazard exists.
One caveat to be aware of is that even if you are authorized to be on the property, your status can shift to a trespasser if you have been asked to leave yet remain in place.
Licensees are typically social guests. A landowner must use “ordinary” care to protect guests from unsafe conditions. This means that they should warn a guest about a hidden danger or hazard that they know about. For licensees, there is a knowledge requirement for the landowner. Alternatively, they have to make the condition safe, but the minimum threshold is to issue a warning.
An invitee is someone who enters a property to conduct commercial business. They are on the premises for the benefit of the landowner. This category includes a customer at a store as well as someone entering a hotel lobby to use the restroom.
Invitees are owed the highest standard of care by the landowner. They must inspect and repair the premises to ensure overall safety. If there is a defect or hazard on the property, the landowner has to fix it immediately. They must also ensure that adequate warning is given in the meantime. A sign or verbal warning, however, may not be enough to avoid liability.
Knowledge of the Hazard
One of the other elements that has to be analyzed in an injury case that happens at a friend’s house is the knowledge that your friend had of the factor or defect that caused the incident.
Here, the defendant (aka your friend) could claim that he did not know about the condition that led to your injury. If he does contend that he didn’t know about the hazard, then the next step would be to prove that it had existed for a long enough time that he should have reasonably known about it. Another option would be to uncover evidence that he was aware of the hazard.
Contact Us to Discuss Your Case
The idea of suing a friend can be sensitive. Often, these claims are settled through the homeowner’s insurance policy, so your friend would not pay out-of-pocket for your damages. Each situation is different. The best course of action is to contact an attorney to discuss the details of your case and determine the next steps.
For a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney, contact Geoff McDonald & Associates. We’re here to help.