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When Can I Sue a Property Owner or Property Manager?


Whether you can sue a property owner depends whether the property owner owed you a duty of care and whether the property owner breached that duty of care. The duty of care owed to you by the property owner depends on your relationship with the property owner. Typically, you as a visitor will fall into one of three categories:

  • Licensee: A licensee is a visitor whom the property owner permits expressly or implicitly to be on his property without a contractual relationship or trade of benefits. A houseguest is normally considered a licensee.
  • Invitee: An invitee is an individual who visits a property for a reason that benefits both the visitor and the property owner. A common example of an invitee is a shopper visiting a grocery store. In this instance, the shopper benefits from getting groceries and the store benefits from the shopper spending their money. A residential example of an invitee would include a contractor hired by a homeowner to complete repairs on a property. While a transfer of money is common in invitee situations, it is not required.
  • Trespasser: A trespasser is a visitor who comes onto a property without permission of the property owner.

Once that is established, your attorney will begin to look at the duty of care owed:

  • Duty of Care Owed to Licensees: The property owner is usually only liable for willful or wanton injury to a licensee. This means the property owner must exercise enough care to prevent injury to a visitor who is known to be or could reasonably be expected to be within the range of a dangerous act or condition (i.e. warn the licensee of a known hazard). However, the property owner is not required to inspect the premises or to immediately fix dangerous conditions.
  • Duty of Care Owed to Invitees: The property owner must exercise ordinary care to keep the premises safe. This includes protecting invitees from any dangerous conditions the owner knows about or should reasonably know about. The property owner must also inspect the property and must either fix or warn invitees about any dangerous conditions. An example of this is the “Caution: Wet Floor” signs that is commonly used in retail and grocery stores.
  • Duty of Care Owed to Trespassers: Because there is now true relationship between a trespasser or property owner, the law is much more lenient when it comes to the duty of care owed by the property owner. The property owner is not required to fix any dangerous conditions nor must the property owner warn trespassers about potential hazards. However, a property owner can be held liable for creating dangerous conditions on his property or making dangers conditions worse in order to catch trespassers.

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