Plaintiff was a social guest of defendant and was injured by the defective bathroom fixture in defendant’s apartment.
Where the occupier of land is aware of a concealed condition involving an unreasonable risk of harm to, a failure to warn the guest or to repair the condition constitutes negligence.
Plaintiff was invited to defendant’s apartment. While plaintiff was using the bathroom, he got injured by the broken fixture. Defendant knew that the knob of the water faucet was cracked, but did not warn plaintiff. Plaintiff brought suit to recover damages on the grounds that defendant was negligent. Defendant alleged contributory negligence and assumption of risk, claiming that plaintiff was a visitor so he assumed the risk.
Was defendant negligent for not warning or fixing the broken faucet?
Justice Burke believed the three categorizations are fair. He argued that it is not the proper function of the court to overturn the learning, wisdom and experience of the past in this field. The majority’s decision may open the door to potentially unlimited liability despite the purpose and circumstances motivating the plaintiff in entering the premises of another, and despite the caveat of the majority that the status of the parties may “have some bearing on the question of liability . . .”
Traditionally, there are three categories of visitors: trespasser, licensee, invitee. A trespasser is a person who enters upon land of another without a privilege to do so; a licensee is a person like a social guest who enters upon the possessor’s consent, and an invitee is a business visitor who is invited or permitted to enter or remain on the land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings between them. Among the three categories, the property owner only owes the invitee a duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid injuring him. A trespasser and licensee are obliged to take the premises as they find them, and that the possessor of the land owes them only the duty of refraining from wanton or willful injury.
However, the California Court rejected this classification, as it opined that a person’s injuries should not be any less worthy of compensation merely because that person came onto someone’s property without a business purpose.
The proper test to determine a property owner’s liability is whether in the management of his property, he has acted as a reasonable man in view of the probability of injury to others. In this case, defendant knew about the danger, and that danger was concealed that plaintiff had no way to find out himself. Plaintiff entitled to a reasonable warning about the danger. Defendant’ss failure to warn or to repair the condition constitutes negligence.