An Indiana Homeowner’s Duty to Social Guests

One of the most important determinations in an Indiana slip-and-fall case is the status of the injured party. Visitors are classified into three categories, invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Under Indiana premises liability law, the highest duty is owed to invitees, who are guests who are invited onto the landowner’s property for the landowner’s benefit. Invitees most often are guests who are visiting for business purposes, such as customers. When it comes to the duty owed to an invitee, an Indiana landowner must make reasonable efforts to clear any known hazards on their property or at least warn the invitee of the known hazard.

On the other end of the spectrum are trespassers. For the most part, Indiana landowners do not owe trespassers a duty. However, the landowner cannot willfully or maliciously cause a trespasser harm. Occupying the middle ground between invitee and trespasser is the licensee. A licensee is someone who has either express or implied permission to enter a property, and does so “for his own convenience, curiosity, or entertainment.” The most common licensees are social guests, including friends and family members.

Landowners owe a duty to licensees to refrain from “acting in a manner to increase their peril.” A landowner also has a duty to warn licensees of any known dangers on their property. A recent state appellate decision discussed a landowner’s potential liability to a social guest who was injured on his property.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and her daughter were visiting a friend’s home to get ready for a school dance. After parking in the driveway and noticing that there was ice on the walkway up to the front door, the plaintiff informed her daughter’s friend’s father that the walkway was slippery. As the plaintiff prepared to leave, the homeowner asked the plaintiff to leave through the garage as to not cross the slick walkway. However, as the plaintiff was getting into her car, she slipped and fell on the icy pavement.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the homeowner, arguing that he had a duty to warn her of the icy driveway. She also claimed that he was negligent in failing to spread ice-melt on the driveway, despite knowing that ice would likely form. When asked why he did not spread ice-melt, the defendant explained that he never used it because he feared it would get racked inside the home.

A jury found in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed the court’s refusal to overturn the jury’s verdict. However, an appellate court affirmed the court’s decision. The court explained that, while the defendant was informed by the plaintiff that his walkway was icy, he was not told that his driveway was also icy. Thus, the court determined that the plaintiff could not show that the defendant had knowledge of the icy driveway. Because the plaintiff was required to prove the defendant had at least constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused her fall, the court held that the jury’s verdict was proper.

Have You Been Injured on Another’s Property?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an Indiana slip-and-fall accident at a business or another’s home, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through an Indiana premises liability lawsuit. At the law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse, we represent Indiana injury victims in premises liability lawsuits and other personal injury claims, including Indiana motor vehicle accidents. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation, call 888-532-7766 to schedule a free consultation today.