Invitee, Licensee, Trespasser: What’s the Difference?

Stephen M. Smith
Last Updated:
August 3, 2022
A couple answers the door to a woman who could be an invitee or trespasser.
If you’re injured while on someone’s property, who can be held liable? Does it matter whether you have their permission to be there?

Under premises liability law, property owners can be held liable in various instances when someone is injured while on their property. Premises liability holds property owners responsible for maintaining safe conditions on their property. These include securing against slip and falls, deck collapses, and other hazards.

However, it’s important to note that their liability also depends on the nature of the person visiting the property. A number of factors are considered when determining liability, especially the visitor’s reason or purpose for being on the property.

Determining responsibility in a premises liability case can be a complex matter. If you or a loved one were injured while on someone else’s property, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. Contact the Smith Law Center at (757) 244-7000 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your rights.

Premises liability law outlines three types of visitors: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. These will be discussed in more detail below.

What Is an Invitee?

An invitee is a person that the property owner has specifically invited to enter their property for a lawful purpose.

An example of this is a friend or neighbor that the property owner invited for a visit, or a customer doing business at a store.

Duty of Care Owed to Invitees

Property owners can be held liable for injuries to invitees if they knew or should have known the dangerous condition existed when exercising reasonable care in inspecting their property. Property owners have a duty to warn invitees of such risk, as well as a duty to inspect the premises for any known dangers that might hurt them.

What Are the Two Types of Invitees?

Some state laws further delineate invitees into two categories:

  • Business Invitees: Those who lawfully enter the property to do business with the owner
  • Public Invitees: A person who enters the property for the purpose for which the property is held open to the public, even if no business purpose is involved (such as someone who takes a walk in a public park during operating hours)

For business invitees, the liable party will usually be the business owner; for public invitees, it is typically a government agency that can be held liable (such as a Parks & Recreation Department).

What Is a Licensee?

A licensee is someone who is allowed to be on and remain on the premises for their own benefit, at the consent of the owner.

An example would be a person that the property owner has granted permission to hike or camp on their land. Another example might be when a property owner allows a utility company to perform work on their land to repair pipes.

Duty of Care Owed to Licensees

Property owners are liable for injuries to licensees if they had reason to know of any hazards, yet failed to take steps to correct them. Similar to invitees, the owner has a duty to warn licensees of dangers; however, they don’t have a duty to inspect their property before the licensee enters.

What Is a Trespasser?

A trespasser is someone who has entered or remained on the property with no permission or no legal right.

Common examples include someone breaking and entering into a house, a person hiking on a plot of land without the owner’s permission, or a person loitering inside a business without the owner’s consent.

Duty of Care Owed to Trespassers

Generally speaking, property owners are not responsible for any injuries sustained by a trespasser. They don’t have any duty to warn them of dangers or to inspect their property and make it safe for them.

What Are Some Helpful Tips to Remember About Visitors to Property?

As mentioned, the differences between invitees, licensees, and trespassers can be a lot to take in. Here are few more pointers to help clarify the categories:

  • Property owners owe the highest duty of care to invitees, less of a duty to licensees, and the lowest level of care to trespassers
  • An invitee’s presence on the property is mutually beneficial for both parties; a licensee’s presence is only on the property for their own convenience or interest.
  • An invitee’s status only applies within the scope of permission granted by the property owner. For instance, if an invitee is allowed to do business in the main area of a store, and they go snooping in the back storage areas and are injured, they might not have the full protection of an invitee.

Note that state laws may vary slightly with regard to each of these exact categories and definitions. If you have any questions about premises liability laws, contact a lawyer for additional advice and guidance.

If you were injured on someone else’s property, you may be eligible for compensation through a lawsuit.

What Does This Mean for Visitors to Property Who Were Injured on the Premises?

If you were injured on someone else’s property, you may be eligible for compensation through a lawsuit. The following are steps you can take after the incident which can help your attorney with preparations:

  • Seek medical attention immediately; failure to do so could affect your ability to collect damages
  • Be sure to keep all medical records and documents related to the incident
  • Contact a lawyer and don’t speak to the other party or anyone else until you have legal representation
  • Write down an account of what happened while the memory is still fresh in your mind; include details such as whether you were invited to the premises and whether you were warned about any dangers of the property

If you can’t handle any of these due to your injuries, that’s ok — it’s our job as attorneys to prepare the evidence and legal strategies for your case.

Damages in a Premises Liability Lawsuit

A qualified premises liability can help you recover costs such as:

  • Medical bills for your injuries
  • Lost wages as you recover
  • Loss of the ability to generate income caused by long-term injury
  • Pain and suffering, and other expenses

What Does This Mean for Property Owners?

For property owners, the best thing you can do is exercise reasonable care in maintaining and repairing your property. If you see something broken, try your best to fix or repair it. Just because you owe a lower duty of care to someone based on their status, doesn’t mean you can’t go beyond and take extra steps to ensure their safety.

Also, if you have any doubts about an area of your property that might be dangerous, such as a rickety staircase, let your visitors know about it or tell them that it’s off-limits. Preventing an accident in the first place is preferable to dealing with the aftermath of an injury and a possible lawsuit.

Don’t take risks lightly — even a seemingly simple slip and fall accident can lead to something serious like a traumatic brain injury.

Contact a Premises Liability for Legal Representation for Your Case

Having an accident on another person’s property can be scary. You might not know what to do or how to begin pursuing a remedy for your losses. A qualified lawyer can help guide you through the legal process.

At the Smith Law Center, our attorneys have in-depth experience regarding premises liability and other complex injury claims. Contact us at (757) 244-7000 to set up a no-cost, no-obligation consultation to review your legal options. Reaching out to a lawyer is the first step toward a better quality of life after an accident.

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