by Christian Stegmaier
The first component of the analysis involves a determination of what type of person is coming onto a property. South Carolina recognizes four general classifications of persons who enter a property, such as a convenience store, hotel, or restaurant. These classifications include:
· adult trespassers;
· licensees; and
Different standards of care apply depending on whether the visitor is considered an “invitee,” i.e., an invited business guest; a “licensee,” i.e., a person not invited, but whose presence is suffered; a “trespasser,” i.e., a person whose presence is neither invited nor suffered; or a child.
In premises liability cases, the invitee is offered the utmost duty of care by the business owner and a trespasser is generally offered the least.
An invitee is a person who enters onto the property of another at the express or implied invitation of the property owner. Invitees are limited to those persons who enter or remain on land upon an invitation. This invitation may be express or implied. This invitation carries with it an implied representation, assurance, or understanding that reasonable care has been used to prepare the premises, and make them safe for their reception.
The visitor is considered an invitee if: he or she enters by express or implied invitation; his or her entry is connected with the owner’s business or with an activity the owner conducts or permits to be conducted on his land; and there is a mutuality of benefit or a benefit to the owner.
· patrons of stores or restaurants;
· persons visiting a filling station or convenience store to use the restroom or vending machine or to ask directions; and
· workers or tradesmen invited to work on the premises.
A property owner owes an invitee the duty of exercising reasonable or ordinary care for his safety and is liable for injuries resulting from the breach of such duty.
As a general rule, the property owner has a duty to warn an invitee only of latent or hidden dangers of which the property owner has knowledge or should have knowledge. The degree of care required is companion with the particular circumstances involved, including the age and capacity of the invitee.
This duty is an active or affirmative duty. It includes refraining from any act that may make the invitee’s use of the premises dangerous or result in injury to him.
The touchtone of negligence is forseeability. However, in premises hazard cases, it is not necessary that the precise manner in which the injuries were sustained be foreseeable. Rather, it is sufficient that there is a reasonable generalized gamut of greater than ordinary dangers of injury and that the sustaining of the injury was within this range.
Note: This primer is based upon Sims v. Giles, 343 S.C. 708, 541 S.E.2d 857 (Ct. App. 2001), a leading case on the law of landowner liability.
This material is intended to provide information on a noteworthy legal issue and is not a substitute for legal advice. For further assistance, contact competent legal counsel to discuss the same