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Barmore v. Elmore

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Barmore (Plaintiff), visited the home of the Defendants, Thomas Elmore Sr. (Thomas Sr.), Esther Elmore and Thomas Elmore Jr. (Thomas Jr.) (Defendants), to discuss business of the Masonic Lodge. During the visit, Plaintiff was attacked and stabbed by Thomas Elmore Jr. Plaintiff filed suit against the Defendants, claiming they were negligent in failing to protect him from a dangerous condition on their premises.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Social guests are considered licensees. Premises owners have a duty to warn licensees of hidden dangers unknown to the licensee, but known to the owner.

    Facts. Plaintiff visited the home of Thomas Sr. and Esther Elmore to discuss the business of the Masonic Lodge. Both Plaintiff and Thomas Elmore Sr. were officers of the lodge. During the visit, Thomas Jr., Thomas Sr.’s 47 year old son, advanced towards Plaintiff with a steak knife. Thomas Sr. tried to restrain his son while Plaintiff left the house, but Thomas Jr. got away from his father and stabbed the Plaintiff several times in the chest. Plaintiff filed suit against the Defendants claiming that they were negligent in failing to protect him from a dangerous condition on their premises. Plaintiff appeals from an order of the Circuit Court directing a verdict in favor of the Defendants.

    Issue. Are Defendants entitled to a directed verdict based on Plaintiff’s status as a licensee?

    Held. Yes. Judgment is affirmed.
    * The duty that Defendants owed to Plaintiff depends largely on his classification as either an invitee or a licensee. A social guest is a licensee, and generally must take the premises as he finds them. The owner of the premises has the duty to warn a licensee of any hidden dangers unknown to the guest, of which the owner has knowledge. Also, the owner must refrain from injuring his guest willfully or wantonly. To be classified as an invitee, the person must go onto the owner’s land in furtherance of the owner’s business. As to an invitee, the owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care in keeping the premises reasonably safe for use by an invitee.
    * Plaintiff claims that because he was conducting the business of a fraternal organization during his visit, he attained the status of an invitee. In this case, the evidence suggests that the primary benefit of Plaintiff’s visit was to the fraternal organization of which both were members, rather than to the Defendants. Therefore the Plaintiff is best categorized as a licensee.
    * Because Plaintiff is a licensee, Defendants’ only duty was to warn him of hidden dangers unknown to Plaintiff of which Defendants had knowledge. Although Defendants knew that their son had a prior history of mental problems, he had committed no violent acts in ten years. Based on the evidence, it is clear that Thomas Sr. and Esther Elmore did not know or have reason to know of the possibility that Thomas Jr. would commit a criminal act toward Plaintiff.

    Discussion. The court in this case affirmed the directed verdict, believing that the evidence, viewed in favor of the Plaintiff, so overwhelmingly favored the Defendants that no contrary verdict could ever stand.


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