The upcoming months always see a rise in injuries due to slip and falls, as additional opportunities are presented for people to get hurt around this time of year, from mailmen delivering packages in the sleet or snow, to the neighborhood handyman hired to take down Christmas lights or clean out gutters. However, incurring substantial medical expenses or being out of work for unexpected amounts of time during this time, may very well entail more serious consequences than previous years given the state of the job market and overall economy. This is especially so after the holidays, when most people are not only recovering financially from all the gifts they have bought, but have also used up most of their vacation and sick time. Thus, it is more important than ever to know what your rights are in this respect; precisely what those rights are, however, will depend on the reason one is on the premises where the accident occurs, generally referred to as one’s “status,” and will determine whether you may have a claim for damages. Yet what ‘status’ you qualify as is not always clear, and at times can be rather ambiguous.
As such, this present post seeks to provide some general background on premises liability, and is the first in a series that will explore how courts, pursuant to New Jersey law, have interpreted and determined an individual’s status in instances where that individual seeks to bring a claim for damages as a result of injuries sustained while on another’s property. The question of the individual’s status is important because it defines the boundaries of any duty owed to that person by the landowner. To this end, an individual injured on another’s premises will generally only be successful if it can be shown that the landowner-defendant was negligent in some way; what is considered ‘negligent,’ however, depends on whether the landowner breached a ‘duty’ to the individual; and whether there is a ‘breach’ is determined by the extent of that duty, which in turn is directly dependent upon one’s ‘status’ upon the land where the incident occurs.
In New Jersey, there are a number of classifications of one’s status, which are analyzed by looking to a relatively antiquated set of legal principles which categorizes one’s status as either ‘trespasser,’ ‘licensee,’ or ‘business invitee.’ This distinction is further complicated when there is a question of whether the injured person is an ‘employee’ versus an ‘independent contractor,’ which subsequently raises even more concerns. Depending on which of these categories you fall under, the duty owed to you by the landowner differs drastically, and ultimately the answer thereto may very well be the determining factor as to whether you win or lose your case. The next post in this series will address who is considered an ‘invitee,’ as well as the relevant duty owed to those persons by landowners.