North Carolina Premises Liability Law
In general, owners of property are not deemed insures of the property, i.e. they are not responsible for all injuries which take place on the property. They are responsible for injuries which take place stemming from conditions for which they knew or should have known posed a risk of harm to individuals on their property. This can be a difficult concept for people to grasp, especially if they have held long standing beliefs that owners of property are always responsible for every injury on their property. In essence, what must be shown is negligence.Call Us Today at 704-714-1450
The duty of care owed to another located on one’s property was examined by the North Carolina Supreme Court in the seminal case of Nelson v. Freeland 349 N.C. 615, 507 S.E.2d 882 (1998). The Court changed the law in North Carolina by “eliminat[ing] the distinction between licensees and invitees by requiring a standard of reasonable care toward all lawful visitors.” Id. at 632. Lawful visitors were defined by the Court as those that fall into the categories of invitees and licensees, those who “enter another’s land under the color of right.” Id. at 632.
Batts v. Home Telephone & Telegraph CO., 186 N.C. 120, 118 S.E. 893 (1923); Monroe v. Railroad, 151 N.C. 374, 66 S.E. 315.
In Batts, the defendant owned a private alleyway that had been used by the public as a passage to access the main road prior to the plaintiff’s injury. The Supreme Court held that, “where the owner or occupant of a premises, with knowledge and for a long period of time, permits the public to use the premises without objection, for the purpose of traveling across the same on a well established and safe path or highway, he cannot, without giving notice, render the premises unsafe to the injury of those who have used such highway, and have no notice of the changed condition, without being responsible for the resulting injury.” Id. at 894.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Batts decision in the 1930 case of Jones v. Southern RY CO. et al, 199 N.C. 1, 153 S.E. 637 (1930).
In Jones, the defendant owned a footpath that had been used by the public for years, prior to the plaintiff’s injury. The defendants, knowing the path was so used by the community failed to maintain it and further filled its holes with loose dirt, placing the walking public in greater danger. The Court specifically noted that, “the Defendants, knowing the path was regularly used by pedestrians, placed upon the roadbed a quantity of loose dirt, which increased the hazard of using the path, and that they neglected to give notice or warning, actual or constructive, of the changed conditions.” Id. at 639.
The Supreme Court in Nelson v. Freeland, in excluding the category of unexpected trespasser from those owed the duty of reasonable care, specifically affirmed long standing case law that held owners and occupiers liable for willful and wanton conduct. The Court stated, “we believe that abandoning the status of trespasser may place an unfair burden on a landowner who has no reason to expect a trespasser’s presence… a trespasser has no basis for claiming protection beyond refraining from willful injury.” Id. at 632. The Court maintained owner liability for willful and wanton conduct and carved out an exception for expected trespassers.