Licensee, or Not a Licensee- That is the Question: The Second Common Law ‘Status’ in Premises Liability, Part I

Posted in Injury Law

Now that we have discussed the area of premises liability law in general terms in the first post of this series, and subsequently explored the status of ‘invitees’ in the second one, the present post will address the status of ‘licensees.’ To this end, seeing as the status classification of ‘licensee’ tends to turn on specific factual circumstances, as a person can be considered both an invitee and a licensee at different times within a single situation, attention to detail is important.

To begin with, a ‘licensee’ in the legal technical sense is defined as “a person who is privileged to enter or remain upon land by virtue of the possessor’s consent, whether given by invitation or permission.”  It should also be noted that ‘social guest’ is used interchangeably with ‘licensee,’ and is often used in more contemporary contexts.  As for the duty owed to those who fall under the status class of ‘licensee’ (or ‘social guest’), the New Jersey Supreme Court in Parks v. Rogers, 176 N.J. 491 (2003) reaffirmed the “well-settled principle” that a homeowner (or property/land owner) has a duty to warn the “unwary social guest of a condition of the premises that the homeowner knows or has reason to know creates an unreasonable risk of injury” (emphasis added).

What all this means in practical terms, however, is not as straightforward, and may best be demonstrated through some examples and discussion thereof.  Take, for instance,  the following fact-pattern, utilizing extraordinarily unoriginal names: a neighbor, Paul, asks another neighbor, Jane, to walk his dog Spot for him; Jane refuses to accept any money or remuneration for her services, agreeing to walk Spot out of the kindness of her heart; Jane typically walks Spot in Paul’s backyard, but changed that practice when same became wet and muddy due to construction Paul was having done to his house; subsequently, in preparation for a walk one winter afternoon, Jane puts Spot’s leash on and, at Paul’s direction, leaves the house through Paul’s garage to go walk Spot; six inches of snow are on the ground at this time, though the driveway and sidewalk of Paul’s property had been adequately cleared; as Jane and the dog exit out of Paul’s garage, Spot walks toward the front yard, and Jane follows; on her third step into the yard, she slips on ice that is under the snow severely injuring her knee; Jane then sues Paul in negligence to recover damages for the injuries she sustained on his property; apparently the line of Jane’s kindness is drawn at instituting legal proceedings against her neighbors. 1) Is Jane considered an ‘invitee’ or a ‘licensee’?  2) What duty, if any, did Paul owe to Jane?  3) Do you think Jane will succeed in her claim against Paul?  The answer to these questions, along with further explanation, will be set out in the next post.

*Answer & Explanation to the ‘Mailcarrier’ Questions: 1) In New Jersey, mailcarriers are generally considered to be ‘invitees,’ an approach also followed almost universally by outside jurisdictions.  2) More specifically, a mailcarrier is a ‘business’ invitee, since he or she enters upon the land ‘for a purpose connected with the business of the possessor.’ See Hyperlink to “Who is an ‘Invitee,’ Why, and What Does it Mean?”  3) Yes, the mailcarrier would be permitted to recover economic and non-economic damages as a result of the injuries sustained after slipping on ice while delivering mail: if you remember from the first post in this series, hyperlink to “Tis the season to be careful”, whether such a recovery can be obtained depends on if there was negligence, which itself depends on whether a duty was breached in the first place; therefore, because the fact-pattern expressly stated that the walkway had been negligently cleared, that implicitly means that the landowner breached some duty to the mailcarrier as to the manner in which the path was cleared.