Premises Liability – What is your status?

Posted Wednesday, October 26, 2016 by Ed Harper

Premises Liability - What is your status?

What’s your status?

This is a typical question for this day and age on Facebook. It also matters when it comes to law, specifically in the State of Washington, if you are going to recover from injuries sustained on another’s property it often depends on your legal status. Why were you on the particular piece of property? is a key question. Were you invited for a business reason? Or a social reason? Were you merely entering a piece of property with no intended purpose – you were just passing through and thus trespassing? And, can your status fluctuate depending on the circumstances?

As mentioned in a prior post your legal status is either: Invitee; Licensee; or Trespasser. A landowner owes the highest duty to Invitees; a lower duty is owed to Licensees; and, even less of a duty is owed to Trespassers.

The point of this blog post is to elucidate the method a court utilizes to ascertain this status. Certainly a plaintiff will want to establish their position as an invitee, or at worst a licensee. The defense, on the other hand will attempt to persuade a court that the proper status should be that of a trespasser.

The case, Egede-Nissen v. Crystal Mountain, 93 Wn. 127 (1980) sheds light on how the court will discern the correct category and most importantly, that this decision often goes to the jury as a question of fact for them to decide. In summary, the plaintiff, A. E. Egede-Nissen was injured when she fell from a chair-lift at Crystal Mountain on April 25, 1973. Ms. Egede-Nissen had ventured onto the property when the ski lift operation was closed, except for one chair lift that was operating to assist other persons on the mountain. She impulsively attempted to follow a friend onto the un-manned chair lift, and was injured as she fell from a height of approximately 30’ when she boarded the chair lift improperly.

“The major legal issue at trial was the plaintiff’s status aboard the chairlift, which in turn determined the corresponding duty of care owed by Crystal Mountain…The status aboard the chairlift turned on the resolution of a factual dispute whether Crystal Mountain had given adequate notice of the C-4 lift was closed to the public. Initially, Egede-Nissen’s status was that of a public invitee, which status she would retain until adequately warned of limits to the area of her invitation….If however, petitioner unreasonably strayed beyond the area of invitation, her status would change from that of invitee to a licensee or trespasser, with a corresponding change in the duty owed to her by Crystal Mountain.” Egede-Nissen, at 132-133.

The scope of the invitation was a question for the jury as this was a hotly contested question. “The resolution of that question was dependent upon facts to be found by the jury.” Egede-Nissen, at 136.

Therefore, the case somewhat assists in establishing that a person’s status could change and a jury often is called upon to make the ultimate decision on how far one’s liability should extend.

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