Homeownership has often been identified as an important part of the “American Dream.” Compared to renters, homeowners enjoy a greater degree of independence to use their property as they wish, and generally have an opportunity to grow wealth over time through their investment.
However, as any property owner can attest, homeownership also creates a whole new host of obligations and responsibilities. It seems like there is a never-ending list of items that need to be replaced and projects that need to be completed. Yards and areas outside the home must be maintained. And sometimes, repairs and corrective actions are necessary to ensure the safety of residents and guests alike.
Of course, responsibility for these issues falls on the owner. But what happens if someone is injured while on a homeowner’s property. Is the homeowner liable for injuries and related damages suffered by the injured third party? We’ll discuss those issues in this article.
Determining Premises Liability in Oregon
Assume a person (we’ll call “the visitor”) enters a residential property owned by another person (who we’ll refer to as “the property owner”) and sustains injury due to some kind of hazardous condition, such as a dangerous hole in the yard or a broken step in a staircase.
Can the property owner be held liable?
To analyze this issue in Oregon, one must first determine the legal status of the visitor. This is so because the duty that the property owner owes to the visitor is determined by the visitor’s status. There are three possibilities, each of which we will briefly discuss below.
Invitees enjoy the greatest level of protection. The property owner must act reasonably to protect the invitee from dangers about which the property either knows or should have known. The property owner even has a duty to warn invitees of latent dangers.
Invitee status normally arises in business settings where a commercial establishment has invited a customer onto the premises to conduct business. Thus, a residential homeowner typically does not owe this heightened level of duty. However, one can certainly imagine a set of facts where a residential homeowner has invited someone onto the premises to conduct business and might be held to this standard.
A licensee is a visitor who enters the property with permission but is not there to conduct business. A social guest would fit into this category, making “licensee” the legal status often associated with individuals visiting residential homeowners.
In this case, the property owner has a duty to act reasonably to either make conditions safe or to warn a licensee of existing risks under the following circumstances:
- The property owner knows or has reason to know about the condition and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to the licensee.
- The homeowner should expect that the licensee will not discover or realize the danger.
- The licensee does not know (or have reason to know) of the condition or risk.
A trespasser is a person who enters the property without permission. The owner’s only obligation is not to intentionally harm the visitor.
At the end of the day, a homeowner in Oregon can definitely be liable for injuries sustained on the homeowner’s property.
An important part of the analysis begins with the legal status of the person injured. Homeowners owe appropriate duties to both invitees and licensees.
In addition to the status, other issues may be relevant, such as any alleged comparative negligence of the victim and the applicable statute of limitations.
Call with Questions
While legal liability resulting from property ownership may not be a part of the American Dream most homeowners consider, it’s important in multiple ways.
First, any of us who enjoy homeownership need to make sure that we have adequate insurance coverage to protect us against an unfortunate event for which we might be held liable. Second, like so many other legal rules we discuss in this blog, liability for negligent conduct is important to ensure that all tortfeasors are accountable for their actions so that all Oregonians can be safer.
If you have been injured on another person’s property, you likely have questions about your legal rights. The experienced premises liability lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield stand ready to answer those questions at your convenience. Please call us.