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Chapter 9


This chapter summarizes the various common-law rules dealing with the obligations of owners of land, and the more modern rules that have sometimes replaced the common-law ones.

  • Duty to those outside the premises:  A landowner has a general duty to prevent an unreasonable risk of harm to persons off the land from artificial conditions on the land. (Traditionally, the owner has no duty to remove a natural condition that poses risk to those off the land.)
  • Trespassers:  As a general rule, the landowner owes no duty to a trespasser to make her land safe, to warn of dangers on it, or to protect the trespasser in any other way. But there are important exceptions to this rule.
    • Children:  Most significantly, the owner owes a duty of reasonable care to a trespassing child if certain conditions are met.
  • Licensees:  The common-law recognizes a limited set of duties that a landowner owes to a “licensee.
    • Definition:  A licensee is a person who has the owner’s consent to be on the property, but who does not have a business purpose for being there. The main class of persons who qualify as licensees are “social guests.
    • Duty:  The landowner does not owe a licensee any duty to inspect for unknown dangers, or to fix any known danger. However, the owner does have the duty to warn the licensee of any danger that the owner knows of.
  • Invitees:  At common law, the owner owes a greater set of duties to an “invitee.” 
    • Definition:  An invitee, under the modern view, includes: (1) persons who are invited by the owner onto the land to conduct business with the owner; and (2) those who are invited as members of the public for purposes for which the land is held open to the public.
    • Duty:  The landowner owes an invitee a duty of reasonable inspection to find hidden dangers. Also, the owner must take reasonable efforts to fix a dangerous condition.
  • Rejection of categories:  Some (but not yet most) courts have rejected the categories of trespasser, licensee and invitee, in favor of a single “reasonable person” standard of landowner liability.
  • Lessors and lessees:
    • Lessee:  A tenant is treated as if she were the owner, for liability purposes.
    • Lessors:  In general, a lessor (landlord) is not liable in tort once he transfers possession to the lessee. However, there are some important exceptions.

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