When a person goes onto another person’s land as a guest of some kind, the visitor can generally expect that the owner will provide them with a reasonably safe environment. Washington law provides that the owner has a duty of care to visitors. If the owner’s carelessness leads to unsafe conditions, and the unsafe conditions lead to the visitor being injured, the owner can be held liable for the injured visitor’s damages.
However, the law recognizes that not all visitors have the same legal status, and owners don’t owe the same duty of care to every type of visitor. The law recognizes several categories of visitors, including invitees, social guests, licensees and trespassers.
Generally, the duty of the owner to protect trespassers is low. However, there are situations in which an owner has a duty to protect uninvited visitors from known hazards. For example, owners should not leave dangerous equipment lying around when they know neighborhood children are likely to take a shortcut through their unfenced backyard.
The owner’s duty is higher to invited guests. An invitee might include a customer in a store, because the store owner has, by opening for business, invited customers inside to shop. These customers expect a reasonably safe experience. Only slightly lower on the scale is a licensee. This category includes people who have permission to be on the property for their own purposes, or as a guest. A social guest is another category where the owner has some duty of care.
The status of a victim of a premises liability injury may affect their right to recover their damages. A personal injury attorney would be a good resource for any individual who has further questions about this topic, which is offered as information only and not as legal advice.