Premises Liability for an Invitee
When you are injured on someone else’s property you can sue them if they negligently maintained their property. Under traditional common law, the amount of care to protect those that are on your property varied depending on if they were a trespasser, licensee, or invitee.
A trespasser is what you think it is. When you are on someone else’s property without permission to do so, you are trespassing. A licensee is someone that is invited on to another’s property for social purposes, like a party. An invitee is someone that is invited on to another’s property for the business of conducting business.
While a California Supreme Court case from the 1960’s put this entire paradigm of analysis in danger, it has been resettled that analysis framework still exists.
Thus, under California law, the possessor of land owes a duty to an invitee to make the property reasonably safe for the intended use by the intended user, and to warn of latent or concealed dangers and to guard against possible dangers by reasonable inspection of the premises (Beauchamp v. Los Gatos Golf Course (1969) 273 Cal.App.2d 20, 27.).
An example to help explain this concept is to imagine you are shopping at a store like Target. You go there to buy some new clothes. However, unbeknownst to you, their air-conditioning unit is leaking clear fluid on the tile floor in one of their aisles, causing the floor to be slippery. Further, the employee in that department knows about the floor’s condition, but instead of doing anything about it, decides that it is the next shift’s obligation to deal with the puddle. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but as you are walking through the aisle you slip on that puddle, landing on your back, and having terrible back pain for months.
Who should be responsible at that point? Target, of course! And that is what this law is saying. If you are shopping at a store, the store has a much more affirmative duty to act to ensure your safety then if you were running around in someone else’s field without permission and trip over a gopher hole.
Premises liability is a very convoluted area of the law and even in the example I gave there are many possible facts that would cause the analysis to change, but overall, when you are out shopping, the store you are shopping at has a duty to ensure your safety.