Brief Fact Summary. A jury awarded Gladon (Plaintiff) damages in connection with being struck by a train operated by Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (Defendant). Defendant appealed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A landowner owes a duty to an invitee to exercise ordinary care for the invitee’s safety and protection. Conversely, a landowner owes no duty to a licensee or trespasser except to refrain from willful, wanton, or reckless conduct that is likely to injure him.
Issue. What was the Plaintiff’s status at the time of his injury?
* What duty of care was Plaintiff owed by the Defendant?
Held. The court ruled that the “RTA’s invitation to [Plaintiff] to use their premises did not extend to the area on or near the tracks,” therefore his status was that of trespasser or licensee and thus subject to an ordinary standard of care requiring the Defendant only “to discover and avoid danger.” The judgment of the lower court was reversed and the action remanded.
Dissent. The dissent maintained that the majority avoided the fundamental issue at hand, which was characterized as a constitutional one: “[t]he real issue in this case is whether any application of [the applicable statute] to reduce or “cap” a jury award in a negligence action against a political subdivision of the state violates the right to trial by jury.” The dissent took further issue with the majority’s characterization of the status of the Plaintiff, which the dissent maintains is that of “business invitee”. The distinction was critical as it goes directly to the duty of cared owed by Defendant.
Discussion. The common law approach measure the duty owed by the status of the person entering the land. There are three basic categories: “trespassers,” “licensees,” and “invitees.” That classification determines the standard of care owed by the land occupier. In some jurisdictions this approach to liability has been abandoned in favor of a generalized duty of ordinary care.
* A “trespasser” is defined as a person who enters or remains on another’s property without the permission (express or implied) of the owner. The duty owed in this case is very limited. As noted above, the only duty owed is to refrain from willful harm. A “licensee”, in contrast is one who enters the land with the express or implied consent of the landowner. Social guests fall under this category. Finally, an “invitee” is a person who enters the property at the behest of the owner, and this type of person generally falls into two categories: business invitees and public invitees. The duty owed an invitee is that the landowner uses reasonable care in maintaining the premises and in their activities.