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Pennsylvania premises liability: Understanding 'duty of care'

Business and private property owners in Pennsylvania are legally bound to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. This is called 'duty of care', meaning that property owners take steps to protect visitors from dangers or injuries. A property owner may be negligent if they don't follow through with the appropriate level of care, and their negligence results in an injury.

There are three types of visitors recognized by law-invitees, licensees and trespassers.

Invitees-An invitee is owed the highest duty of care by a property owner and is someone who has implied or express permission to enter the property for business or social reasons. In the case of invitees, owners must correct both known and unknown hazards. An invitee can be a customer visiting an auto shop, a person going to church, or a friend coming over for dinner.

Licensees-Anyone who enters a property under authority of the law (i.e. police, firefighters, emergency responders) is a licensee, as are guests invited to the property for other reasons that typically don't benefit the property owner. Property owners owe licensees a lessened degree of care than invitees, but must ensure that any known hazards are attended to (there is no obligation to address unknown hazards).

Trespassers-A visitor who has not been invited or approved to visit the property is a trespasser. While a home or business owner doesn't have a legal obligation to protect trespassers from harm, they are also not allowed to purposefully cause harm or injury to a trespasser.

In addition, if a property owner knows that they have frequent trespassers, they may be liable if they create a hazard, the hazard is meant to cause bodily harm or death, the hazard is hidden from trespassers and if the owner failed to reasonably warn trespassers of the hazard.

Trespassing children-Property owners have a legal obligation to ensure that their property is safe in for children who may be tempted to trespass. Because children are often unaware of the dangers around them, they may enter a property to explore what are called "attractive nuisances." Examples of attractive nuisances include swimming pools, machinery or even a rooftop. Owners must take steps to prevent harm to children by limiting access to hazards or removing them entirely.

Owning a home or business comes with many responsibilities, including ensuring that your visitors, customers or services providers are kept reasonably safe from harm when visiting your property. If you have questions about preventing injuries on your property, contact a local premises liability lawyer.

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