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Heins v. Webster County

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Heins (Plaintiff) sued Webster County (Defendant) for negligence when he slipped on ice at the Webster County hospital while there visiting his daughter who worked there.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Owners and occupiers owe a duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining their property to all lawful visitors on their premises.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff’s daughter worked at the Webster County hospital. When he went to visit her, he slipped on ice at the hospital entrance and was injured. Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence. The trial court found Plaintiff to be a licensee and therefore held that Defendant only owed him a duty not to act willfully or wantonly and to warn Plaintiff of only known hidden dangers. The court found that Defendant had met this duty. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that Defendant owed him a duty of reasonable care.

    Issue.

    Do owners and occupiers have a duty of reasonable care in the maintenance of their property to all lawful visitors on their premises?

    Held.

    (Connolly, J.) Yes. Owners and occupiers owe a duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining their property to all lawful visitors on their premises. The common-law distinction between a licensee and an invitee is eliminated. So long as the visitor is on the premises lawfully, the duty owed is that of reasonable care. This new rule should be applied to this case. Reversed and remanded.

    Dissent.

    (Fahrnbruch, J.) It is not up to the court to create public policy imposing a duty upon landowners to provide the same care to all lawful visitors to the premises.

    Discussion.

    The court determined that relationships now existed within the commercial society that were not contemplated by the common-law classifications. It was unfair to protect the hospital from liability simply because Plaintiff was on the premises to visit his daughter instead of as a patient. England abolished the common-law distinction between licensees and invitees by statute in 1957. Several other states have adopted this approach as well.



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