Breaking down the claim

Premises liability cases often conjure images of slip and fall incidents within businesses, yet such claims can extend to everyday situations, such as accidents occurring at a friend’s residence. The viability of a claim hinges on various factors, including the guest’s designated legal status. The legal status of a guest could either be that of an Invitee, a Licensee or a Trespasser. This article will delve into a typical scenario involving assistance with a friend’s move, and showing how the classification of a claim can be contingent upon specific circumstances.

Commencing with a concise recounting of the incident, consider the following hypothetical scenario: your friend hired you as a professional painter to come over to your home to help with a painting task. While engaged in the task, you inadvertently trip over an unforeseen hole, resulting in a broken ankle.

In analyzing this situation, it becomes apparent that the characterization of the claim is subject to nuanced details. The nature of your involvement, from a legal standpoint, hinges on factors such as the purpose of your presence and the extent to which compensation is involved. This underscores the importance of carefully scrutinizing the circumstances surrounding the incident to determine the appropriate categorization of the claim.

In this context, the article aims to unravel the complexities of premises liability by using the aforementioned scenario as a case study. By examining the specifics of the incident, readers will gain insights into the nuances that can significantly impact the legal implications and potential avenues for recourse in cases of injuries sustained during seemingly commonplace activities, such as assisting a friend with a move.


Duty to the Invitee

  • 1

    Remedy any hazards or warn of hazards existence AND

  • 2

    Must routinely survey the property for any hazards

The classification would most likely be invitee for the following reasons. As defined an invitee is someone who enters another person’s property at the express or implied invitation of the property owner (referenced in Goode v. St. Stephens United Methodist Church, 329 S.C. 433, 441, 494 S.E.2d 827, 831 (Ct. App. 1997)). As the individual was on the friend’s property for a mutual financial benefit, akin to a business transaction, this aligns with the criteria for invitee status.

It is important to note that, as per legal precedent, property owners that welcome invitees must 1) remedy any hazards or ward of hazards existence and 2) routinely survey the property for any hazards . Consequently, because you were an invitee and the two criteria were not met the friend’s insurance company would likely bear responsibility for the incident and be obligated to cover any resultant medical expenses.

This assessment underscores the significance of understanding the legal categorization of individuals on a property and the corresponding responsibilities of property owners. By clarifying the invitee status in this context, it provides a framework for potential liability and underscores the role of the friend’s insurance company in addressing the consequences of the accident.


Duty to the Licensee:

  • 1
    Liable for recklessly or carelessly not warning the licensee of known hazards that are not visible
  • 2

    Remedy hazards that make place unsafe

In a comparable scenario where for example you as a professional painter instead helped your friend just as a favor and with no compensation, your legal classification would likely align with that of a licensee. A licensee, as defined by legal precedent (Neil v. Byrum, 288 S.C. 472, 473, 343 S.E.2d 615, 616 (1986)), refers to a social guest or an individual privileged to enter the property based on the possessor’s consent. Importantly, a licensee’s presence on the premises is primarily for their own benefit rather than that of the property owner (Goode v. St. Stephens United Methodist Church, 329 S.C. 433, 441, 494 S.E.2d 827, 831 (Ct. App. 1997)).

In the context of a licensee, the property owner holds a duty to exercise reasonable care in disclosing known hazards that are not visible and to remedy known hazards that make the place unsafe .(Landry v. Hilton Head Plantation Prop. Owners Ass’n, 317 S.C. 200, 203, 452 S.E.2d 619, 62 (Ct. App. 1994)). Under a Licensee standard however, the property owner’s liability is contingent upon specific conditions, such as the absence of a warning regarding dangers that may cause harm to the licensee during an activity benefiting them.

In the updated scenario, if you were helping your friend and she knew of the hazard before you came over and did not warn you she would likely be held liable. However on the other hand if she did NOT know of the hazard and the hazard was in an inconspicuous spot the friends may not be held liable.

It is crucial to note that the property owner would not be held liable if the licensee was neither explicitly invited nor if the licensee's own negligence led to their injury. This legal analysis underscores the importance of understanding the nuanced distinctions in premises liability, particularly in cases involving the classification of individuals on the property and the corresponding duties of the property owner.


The final classification of liability pertains to a trespasser, a designation that may appear somewhat broad in scope. A trespasser is defined as an individual whose presence on the property is neither invited nor tolerated, including children (referenced in Joseph F. Singleton, “Liability of Owner or Possessor of Land,” 21 S.C. L. Rev. 291 (1969)). The level of care owed to a person present on the property is contingent upon their classification (Larimore v. Carolina Power & Light, 340 S.C. 438, 444, 531 S.E.2d 535, 538 (Ct. App. 2000)).

In the case of a trespasser, the property owner is typically not held responsible for any harm incurred by the trespasser, as the individual was not formally invited onto the property. Updating our current scenario again, consider a situation where, after assisting your friend in painting you leave the house however on your way back to your home you realize you left your phone behind. Subsequently you turn around and go to retrieve your phone in your friends home without your friend’s consent. If you were to encounter the same hole in the floor and sustain an injury, you would be classified as a trespasser in this context. Even more importantly it is even less likely that you could recover due to your designation
as a trespasser.

The absence of consent to enter the property distinguishes you as a trespasser, and as such, the property owner holds a diminished duty of care toward you. It is important to note that the legal obligations of the property owner are intricately linked to the classification of the person on the premises, emphasizing the nuanced nature of premises liability. In this instance, being aware of your status as a trespasser underscores the limited liability of the property owner in the event of an injury.


In conclusion, the classification of one’s guest status holds significant relevance when assessing liability, particularly in the intricate landscape of everyday scenarios. The determination of one’s legal standing can rest on an infinite amount of possibilities. Underscoring the importance of engaging an attorney to navigate these complexities and ensure a comprehensive understanding of one’s rights and potential recourse. Seeking legal representation ensures that your case is diligently managed and pursued to secure a fair and just resolution.