Duty Owed by Homeowners to Persons Walking on Their Sidewalks - Slip and Falls, Trip and Falls

Duty Owed by Homeowners to Persons Walking on Their Sidewalks - Slip and Falls, Trip and Falls

Posted By Law Offices of Thomas J. Murphy || 7-Nov-2011

In Pennsylvania when a person enters another's land, under the law they are either a trespasser, a licensee or an invitee. The possessor of the land owes a different duty to each type of entrant upon his or her land. A trespasser is a person who enters or remains upon the land without the permission of the possessor of land. Consequently the possessor of land owes a trespasser the least duty of care to make the premises safe.

An invitee is a person who is invited by the possessor of land to enter or remain on the land for social or business purposes. A customer in a store is a business invitee, as they are invited by the store to enter the land for the store owner's business purposes. Since the possessor of land invites the person onto the land for the possessor of land's purposes, the possessor of land owes an invitee the greatest duty of care to make and keep the premises safe.

A licensee is between a trespasser and an invitee. A licensee is a person who is privileged or allowed to enter the land with the possessor of land's consent. However, a licensee enters the land of another solely for his or her own purpose. The person entering the land of another does not enter the land for either a business or social purpose of the possessor of land. When a person walks on the sidewalk of another for that person's sole purpose of crossing the land to get to another destination, that person is considered a licensee.

The possessor of land, or in this example the sidewalk, owes the person walking on the sidewalk a greater duty of care than for a trespasser as the person was permitted to walk on the sidewalk by either privilege or the owner's permission. However, since the possessor of land did not invite the person onto the sidewalk and the person is not on the sidewalk for any purpose related to the possessor of land, the possessor of land does not owe the licensee the same duty that would be owed to an invitee.

Pennsylvania applies the Restatement (Second) of Torts §342 to determine a possessor of land's duty to a licensee. Under §342 the possessor of land is liable for personal injuries sustained by a licensee where:

(a) the possessor knows or has reason to know of the condition and should realize that it involved an unreasonable risk of harm to such licensees and should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, and

(b) the possessor fails to exercise reasonable care to make the condition safe, or to warn the licensees of the condition and the risk involved, and

(c) the licensees do not know or have reason to know of the condition and the risk involved.

When a person slips and falls or trips and falls as a licensee on another's sidewalk, they must prove all three elements above to prevail on a negligence claim against the possessor of land. Typically, the most litigated issue is whether the injured person knew or had reason to know of the dangerous condition and the risk involved. For example, if a sidewalk has a hole in it due to the possessor of land's negligent maintenance of the sidewalk and on a bright sunny afternoon with nothing obscuring the hole a person/licensee trips on the hole and falls, that person may have a hard time proving the third element. However, take the same set of facts, but now have the hole covered by falling autumn leaves and the injury occurring at night, both acting to obscure the hole for the pedestrian/licensee to see. Under the latter version, the injured person would probably prevail on establishing all 3 elements necessary to successfully bring a personal injury claim based on the possessor of land's breach of duty to keep the sidewalk safe.

The same differing results can occur with a slip and fall on an icy sidewalk. If the ice is open and obvious or the possessor of land has placed a warning cone over the icy spot, then it will be hard for the injured person/licensee to prevail for a slip and fall claim. On the other hand if the same patch of ice is subsequently covered by a dusting of snow, camouflaging the ice and no warning cone is present, the injured person/licensee will have a greater chance of prevailing on his or her slip and fall claim due to the icy sidewalk.

If the injured person/licensee is able to establish all three elements to prove the possessor of land's breach of duty to the licensee, then the injured person is entitled to compensation for his or her injuries, medical expenses and lost wages. As discussed in the examples above, not all trip and fall or slip and fall injury claims are alike and the results can vary greatly depending on the specific set of facts for each fall. If you or someone you know is injured due to a slip and fall or trip and fall on another's sidewalk, walkway, parking lot, steps or floor, you should contact a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer with over 20 years experience to make sure that your case is handled properly and that you obtain maximum compensation for your injuries, medical expenses and lost wages.