Who is an 'Invitee,' Why, and What Does it Mean?
New Jersey is slowly beginning to move away from the common law system, which relies so heavily on one’s ‘status’, toward a more general ‘reasonable person’ standard in all situations. However, old habits apparently still die hard, as courts and judges continue to apply the traditional common-law approach to landowner tort liability when a party is injured because of a dangerous condition on private property, which predicates such liability on the status of the person on the property at the time of the injury, i.e. whether the injured party is a “trespasser”, “licensee” or “business invitee”. This post is the second in a series on the premises liability law of New Jersey, and will explore the status of ‘invitees,’ the class afforded the highest degree of protection in the hierarchy of ‘status’ categorizations.
Before we address the extent of the duty owed to such ‘invitees,’ it is helpful to first analyze who falls under this category and why. As discussed in the previous post, the duty owed to a plaintiff is determined by the circumstance that brought him or her to the property where he or she was injured. However, the term ‘invitee’ is a word of art with a special meaning in the law, and is more limited than that of “invitation” in the popular sense. To this end, an ‘invitee’ in the legal sense is considered “one who is on the premises to confer some benefits upon the invitor other than purely social,” and has been defined by a leading treatise as:
those persons who enter or remain on land upon an invitation which carries with it an implied representation, assurance, or understanding that reasonable care has been used to prepare the premises, and make them safe for their reception. Such persons fall generally into two classes: (1) those who enter as members of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public; and (2) those who enter for a purpose connected with the business of the possessor. The second class are sometimes called business invitees or visitors; and a business visitor is merely one kind of invitee; there are many visitors, such as customers in shops, who may be placed in either class.
As for the benefits and what it actually means to fall under this category, it should be noted that ‘invitees’ are afforded the most protection amongst any of the common law classifications (i.e., as opposed to ‘licensee’ or ‘trespasser’). As such, the ‘duty’ imposed on landowners constitutes a “non-delegable obligation to use reasonable care to protect invitees against known or reasonably discoverable dangers.”
In light of the foregoing, let’s see if you can now put what you just learned into practice. Take the following situation, for example, and see if you can form an educated guess as to the questions proceeding it: a mailcarrier walks onto someone’s property to deliver mail, but slips on ice and is injured because the walkway had been negligently cleared. Is the plaintiff-mailcarrier in that situation considered an invitee? If so, a ‘public’ invitee or a business invitee? Lastly, would the mailcarrier be able to recover for his or her injuries?