Personal injuries can happen anywhere and often on someone else's property. Out of these, many happen precisely because of a condition on that property – a broken set of stairs or a slippery tile. Sometimes the owner puts something on his property that poses a risk to anyone visiting, like a batting cage or a trampoline.
Just because your injury occurred on someone else's property does not mean you do not deserve to be compensated. You still got hurt through no fault of your own: It is only just to make the person or the people who caused your injuries pay for them.
In New Jersey, this is the law of premises liability.
The Place of Premises Liability in Personal Injury Law
Personal injury law aims to compensate victims who get hurt because of someone else's conduct, whether that conduct was done on purpose or negligently. In order to get compensation, though, the victim needs to show four things:
- Someone else had a duty of care to keep the victim out of harm's way,
- That person breached their duty of care,
- That breach caused the victim's injuries, and
- The extent of the injuries that the victim suffered.
Premises liability is about the first step in personal injury law: Whether someone else owed you a duty of care and, if they did owe a duty, what that duty entailed.
The question of whether you were owed a duty of care or not depends largely on one question: What was your relationship with the property's owner or manager?
In New Jersey, there are three categories that this relationship can fall into. Each one requires something different from the landowner and relies on how much the landowner should have expected for you to be on the property.
The Three Kinds of Visitors in Premises Liability
Over the course of decades deciding personal injury cases that happen because of dangerous conditions on the property of someone other than the victim, courts in New Jersey have come up with three types of visitors a person can have. Because each type of visitor is either more likely or less likely to be on someone's property, a landowner is legally required to provide different levels of protection for each visitor type.
In New Jersey, the visitors that are most likely to be on the landowner's property – and which, therefore, are owed the greatest level of protection – are called invitees. Those who are least likely to be on the grounds, and which are afforded very little legal protection, are trespassers. In between these extremes are licensees.
Trespassers in New Jersey
A trespasser in New Jersey is someone who is “neither invited nor suffered” to be on a landowner's property. Lordi v. Spiotta, 45 A.2d 491, 494 (Sup.Ct. 1946). Examples include people making a “short cut” through someone else's yard or who are exploring someone else's property despite seeing signs not to. They are people who the landowner has little reason to expect, and who the landowner does not want to see on their grounds.
In New Jersey, landowners do not need to protect trespassers very much. The general rule is that “a landowner owed no duty to a trespasser other than to refrain from acts willfully injurious.” Renz v. Penn Central Corp., 87 N.J. 437, 461 (1981). Additionally, landowners need to warn trespassers about any “artificial conditions on the property that pose a risk of death or serious bodily harm to a trespasser.” Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426, 434 (1993). In all other cases, though, the landowner has no duty to protect trespassers, so if they get hurt and these obligations do not apply, the trespasser would not receive compensation for their injuries.
Licensees in New Jersey
A licensee in New Jersey is someone who is “permitted to come upon the property, and does so for his own purposes.” Rowe v. Mazel Thirty, LLC, 34 A.3d 1248, 1253 (2012). An example of a licensee is a social guest, like visiting friends or family members, who may be “suffered” by the landowner, but who may not be the reason for the property's existence.
When it comes to licensees in New Jersey, landowners have a legal duty to warn them of any dangerous conditions on the property that the owner knows of, and which the licensee is unlikely to notice. Berger v. Shapiro, 152 A.2d 20 (1959). Importantly, though, the landowner does not need to go out of his or her way to find latent hazards on their property that could hurt a visitor.
Invitees in New Jersey
Finally, invitees are people who are on the property “by invitation, express or implied, generally for some business purpose of the owner.” Rowe v. Mazel Thirty, LLC, 34 A.3d 1248, 1253 (2012). Invitees are usually shoppers in the landowner's business – they are financially benefitting the landowner, and the property is designed to attract them.
Because they are the reason for the existence of the premises and because they financially benefit the landowner, the landowner has a steep duty of care to keep invitees safe in New Jersey: “Only to the invitee or business guest does a landowner owe a duty of reasonable care to guard against any dangerous conditions on his or her property that the owner either knows about or should have discovered. That standard of care encompasses the duty to conduct a reasonable inspection to discover latent dangerous conditions.” Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426, 434 (1993).
Premises Liability Attorneys at Lavery, Selvaggi & Cohen
Determining your relationship with the property owner once you have gotten hurt because of a condition on their property can make or break a case. This makes premises liability one of the most important aspects of a huge swath of personal injury situations in New Jersey and makes it crucial to have the help of attorneys who are well-versed in our state's premises liability law.
Reach out to the personal injury and premises liability attorneys at Lavery, Selvaggi & Cohen by calling them at (908) 852-2600 or by contacting them online.