A common query asked of the team here at Jamison Empting Cronin LLP is what duty of care do property owners in California owe to those who come on to their lands. The common assumption whenever one sustains an injury on another’s property, the property owner assumes liability for such an incident.
Yet is that truly the case? While many might understand the inherent responsibility that comes with owning a property (and by extension, protecting others while on it), most also recognize that not all visitors to a property come under the same pretenses.
The duty of care owed in California
California’s Civil Jury Instructions spell out a property owner’s duty of care quite clearly. They state that the assignment of such responsibility depends on the following factors:
- A property’s geographic location
- The likelihood of an accident victim coming on to the property in the manner they did
- The existing likelihood of harm to the victim (and the probable seriousness of such harm)
- Whether the property owner knew (or should have known) of the existence of the hazard that caused the harm
- The difficulty the property owner faced in protecting the victim from such harm
- The extent to which the property owner could control the condition that caused the harm
The importance (or lack thereof) of visitor classifications
Many states adhere to rigid standards defining the type of visitor on a property when assigning premises liability (with general classifications including invitees, licensees and trespassers). California does not. This does not mean, however, that such classifications have no bearing when assigning liability. Indeed, the law does allow a jury to consider the circumstances under which an accident victim came onto a property when determining the amount of liability a property owner should assume for said victim’s injuries.