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Property Owner's Duty
A property owner has varying degrees of responsibility for the safety of individuals who enter his or her property depending upon the purpose of the visit. There are three categories of visitors that the law recognizes to determine the extent of the property owner’s duty: invitees, licensees, and trespassers.
An invitee is an individual who enters another person’s property for business purposes. In this instance, the property owner has the highest degree of responsibility for the visitor’s well-being. The owner is expected to correct known hazards and to inspect for unknown hazards.
In contrast, a licensee is an individual who enters another person’s property for social purposes. A property owner’s degree of duty is less to such a social guest than in the case of a business visitor and only requires that the property is free of dangerous elements and shows reasonable care and maintenance. There is no duty to look for unknown hazards.
The least degree of duty required of a property owner, known as "zero duty", occurs when a trespasser enters his or her property. Trespassers are unauthorized visitors and are not subject to any safety consideration by the landowner. Although a property owner cannot purposely cause harm to a trespasser, they have little or no responsibility for the well-being of someone who enters the property without permission. It is important to note that there is a different level of consideration required when the trespassers are children. In this situation, the property owner is indeed responsible for the safety of these unauthorized visitors due to the fact that children often unknowingly cross property boundaries or are curiously exploring an "attractive nuisance" (such as a swimming pool).
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