What legal duty of care does a property owner owe trespassers, licensees and invitees?


The legal duty of care of property owners is one specific application of the tort liability law.

Under the law, every property owner has an obligation to protect other people who happen to be on their premises from injury or harm. However, there are varying degrees of care owed by property owners to other people, which depend on each specific situation.

Degrees of the Legal Duty of Care

There is no clear-cut and consistent way in which courts determine the degree of care owed by property owners to different groups of people. Usually, is all depends on the specific situation. Still, we can recognize the following groups of people:

  • Trespassers are people who happen to be on another person's premises without the owner's consent. Property owners do not owe any legal duty to trespassers to keep the grounds of their property safe, and some of them even put warning signs, such as "No trespassing" and "Enter at your own risk". Still, there are seemingly absurd cases of trespassers, such as burglars or robbers, suing the property owners for injuries they have sustained on the grounds of their property.
  • Licensees are owed a higher degree of legal duty, since they are individuals who enter another people's property grounds with the owners' permission. Licensees are a group  of visitors who enter other people's property for their own personal benefit or to perform their professional duties - such as fire fighters, salespeople, police officers, members of different social organizations, etc. Property owners are obligated to tell visiting licensees if there are any unsafe conditions on their premises, which may harm them.
  • Invitees are the group of people owed the highest degree of care, since they enter another person's premises at the invitation of the owner, and for the benefit of the owner. Property owners are required warn invitees of any unsafe conditions and hazardous conditions that may harm them, and try to dispose of them for the safety of the visitors.
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