“A man’s home is his castle.”

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This article deals with the liability of a property owner for injuries occurring on his property. This area of the law is com­monly referred to as premises liability. It includes store pre­mises, school property, recreational lands, and private residences.

The rule in Arizona is that the degree of care owed by a property owner depends on the legal status of the person who comes onto the land. The person who comes onto the land may be categorized as a trespasser, a licensee, or an invitee. A different degree of care is owed with respect to each type of visitor. Here are the definitions:

Trespasser: someone who enters upon land without the owner’s consent or right to do so. A burglar is a trespasser.

Licensee: someone who comes upon the land for his own pleasure or convenience with the consent of the owner. A social guest is a licensee.

Invitee: someone who is invited to enter for a purpose con­nected with the business dealings of the owner. A grocery shopper is an invitee.

Trespassers (Intruders)

Not surprisingly, a trespasser is owed the lowest degree of care. The property owner owes a limited duty to neither will­fully nor intentionally inflict an injury upon trespassers. Thus, an injured trespasser may not recover unless the property owner has been guilty of some willful or wanton disregard for his safety.

There are certain exceptions to this limited liability rule, however. A property owner may be liable for maintaining a highly dangerous artificial condition (e.g., unmarked barbed wire) on his land, or if he knows or should know that trespass­ers constantly intrude on his land and he carries on a danger­ous activity (e.g., excavation), or if harm is caused by artificial conditions to trespassing children. (This last exception to the limited liability of landowners is known as the “attractive nuisance doctrine.”)

Licensees (Social Guests)

A licensee is owed the next highest degree of protection from the property owner. A property owner is liable for injury to a licensee if caused by a hazardous condition and: 1) the owner knew or should have known of the condition; 2) the owner should have realized that the condition posed an unrea­sonable risk of harm; 3) the owner should have expected that the licensee would not discover or appreciate the danger; 4) the owner failed to take reasonable care to either correct the condition or warn about it; and 5) the licensee neither knew nor had reason to know of the condition and the risk. If all five of these conditions are met, the owner is liable for the lic­ensee’s injuries.

Invitees (Customers)

An invitee is owed the highest degree of protection from the property owner. Unlike the duty owed to a licensee, the owner must protect the invitee from unreasonably dangerous conditions, either known to the owner or discoverable by the exercise of reasonable care. This means that the landowner has a duty of inspection—to ensure that the land is safe for his invitees. The law is clear, however, that property owners are not required to render their premises absolutely safe.

Most slip-and-fall cases involve invitees. A store owner can be held liable to a shopper who suffers a slip and fall caused by an unreasonably dangerous condition if the owner either created the condition or had notice of it. Many dangerous con­ditions, such as the proverbial banana peel on the floor, are caused by other shoppers. In such cases, the store owner may be liable if the condition existed for such a length of time that in the exercise of ordinary care the store owner should have known of it and taken action to remedy it. This is why many grocery stores routinely inspect their floors and record the inspection times.

Measure of Damages

If the property owner is liable for an injury on his property, the injured person is entitled to the amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate him or her for the following elements of damages that resulted from the property owner’s fault:

The nature, extent, and duration of the injury.

The pain, discomfort, suffering, disability, disfig­urement, and anxiety experienced as a result of the injury.

Reasonable and necessary medical expenses.

Loss of earnings.

Loss of love, care, affection, companionship, and other pleasures of the marital or family relation­ship.

Legal Tip

A property owner should always maintain sufficient premises liability insurance to protect against liability for injury to visitors. A homeowner’s policy will include this coverage for the home; a business policy will contain this coverage for business premises.

The above article is an excerpt from Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, 2nd Edition (Fenestra Books, 2012), by Donald A. Loose, republished with the author’s permission. 

Disclaimer: Laws change constantly. Specific legal advice should be obtained regarding any legal matter. The information contained on this website does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created. 

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