Congratulations! You’ve completed your lifelong goal of becoming a property owner. It is a great feeling. But it also means that you now have new responsibilities.
Property owners in Virginia have a duty of care for people who enter their property. But exactly how much effort you need to put into protecting others depends on why the person is on your property and whether they have permission to be there. In this blog, you will understand the differences between licensees, invitees, and trespassers.
You owe the greatest level of care to people that you have invited onto your property. Typically, you are responsible for any harm that befalls an invitee unless you:
- Thoroughly inspect your property for all dangers
- Take care to remove any dangers you find
- Warn them about any risks you couldn’t remove
- Have no reason to be aware of a danger that can cause them harm
Because this definition of liability is so strict, you will often be legally responsible for any harm someone suffers while on your property. Make sure to take this into account before inviting others to your property.
Who Counts as an Invitee?
In addition to people that you directly invite, others count as invitees. If you own a business, you have implicitly invited people to enter your property. Anyone who comes during business hours to conduct business is an invitee.
You can also implicitly invite someone if your property is open to the public for non-business reasons. Generally, this rule applies to government-owned property, like libraries or parks. But if you own any type of property that is publicly accessible, this rule applies to you as well.
Sometimes you allow someone to enter your property without inviting them. This can happen when that person petitions you to come to your property, and you accept.
For example, if a local cable company needs to repair wires that run under your property, you could permit them to enter it for that purpose. This situation would be different than if you requested that same cable company to install a new DVR. The person who enters your property in the former situation is a licensee.
You have a lesser duty of care toward licensees than you have to invitees. Your duty of care for licensees does not include a requirement to inspect your property for dangers before they enter it. Otherwise, you have the same responsibilities, though.
A trespasser is anyone who doesn’t have permission to enter or remain on your property. Also, if someone doesn’t intend to conduct business, they are a trespasser at your business.
With one exception, you have no obligation to protect trespassers from harm. Children under the age of eight are the only exception. They can’t legally trespass. Because they can’t trespass, you must provide extra care for them.
This means that you need to ensure there aren’t harmful objects or materials on your property that are easy to access and could hurt a young child.
Premises Liability for Renters
While premises liability laws typically apply to property owners, in some cases, they also apply to renters. Thus, if you are renting an apartment and you invite someone to visit, you are responsible for removing the dangers that you control.
How do you know if you or the property owner is responsible? Sometimes the dividing line is very unclear. However, if something is in a public area, the property owner is typically responsible. If a danger is in a part of the property where you expect privacy, you are probably responsible.
In concrete terms, the property owner would be responsible for a broken railing in a stairwell leading to your apartment. You, however, would be responsible for a broken table in your home. And even if the property owner is responsible for repairing something, you are responsible until you inform them that the object needs repair.
Why Does Duty of Care Matter?
By ignoring your duty of care, you become liable. This means someone might sue you for negligence. If a customer slips on a wet floor and gets hurt, you will probably be responsible for their hospital bills. And if you are unlucky, you might have to pay them a lot more money.
The best way to protect yourself from liability is to always perform maintenance promptly. As long as the work is done, you can instruct others to do it for you. You are only liable for dangers that you were aware of or should have been aware of. If you regularly inspect your property and remove sources of danger, you minimize your liability.
However, just because you’ve minimized your liability, that doesn’t mean you can’t get sued. You can’t afford to take chances if someone gets hurt on your property.
Contact an experienced premises liability lawyer right away after someone gets injured on your property. They can assess your legal responsibility and help you determine what steps you should take next.
Understand Your Responsibility Before Letting Others on Your Property
Becoming a property owner is a big responsibility, especially if you invite others to your property. Before you invite someone on your property, protect yourself by familiarizing yourself with property law and your responsibilities.
By taking time to consult with an attorney and verify that you are taking appropriate measures, you can avoid the expense of a lawsuit in the future.
What Should You Do if Someone Gets Hurt on Your Property?
Premises liability laws can be complex and hard to navigate. If someone gets injured on your property, you need a qualified advocate on your side.
At The Joel Bieber Firm, we can evaluate your case and determine your legal options. We will fight hard to get you the money you deserve. Contact us to book a consultation today.