The general theory behind premises liability law may seem simple to most people in Williamsport: when one sustains an injury on another’s property, the property owner assumes liability for the incident (and responsibility for dealing with any resulting expenses). Yet as is the case with most legal matters, in practice things are rarely that simple.

The complexities typically revolve around a property owner’s duty of care. The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania details that the state recognizes three distinct types of visitors to one’s property: invitees, licensees and trespassers. Any liability for injuries sustained by a person on another’s property depends on which of those classifications they fall in.

Defining a “licensee”

The first and third categories of visitors listed above may seem fairly straightforward: an invitee is one invited on to a property by the owner, while a trespasser is there without the owner’s permission. Defining a licensee, however, can be somewhat murky. Per the Cornell Law School, a licensee is one with either express or implied permission to enter on to another’s property without having an established commercially beneficial relationship with the property owner. In this context, one coming on to a property to perform utility work may be a licensees, as would a merchant looking to sell goods or services to the property owner.

Detailing the care owed to visitors

Generally, property owners owe no duty of care to trespassers other than to refrain from intentional causing them injury. On the other hand, they must exercise all due diligence in protecting invitees from any risks their property poses. In terms of licensees, a property owner must warn them of any known or potential hazards on their land, and routinely inspect their property to discover any dangers readily apparent to a reasonable person.