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An invitee is defined as either a public invitee or a business invitee. A public invitee is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public. A business visitor is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land.
Ernie Hoover, his son Jason, and a third passenger were attempting to find the location of an automobile repairman on Beech Island who was repairing Hoover's jeep. After spotting a large sign advertising Broome's Service Center, Hoover decided to stop there and ask directions. Noticing an open sign in the front window, Hoover went into the front office and asked the lady in attendance for directions. Alfred Davis, the manager-in-training, invited Hoover to follow him into the garage because someone inside might know the location. Shortly after entering the garage, Hoover fell approximately four and a half feet into a grease pit. As a result of the fall, Hoover sustained injuries to his right arm, both knees and hips and compressed his spine. Subsequently, Hoover sued Edna Broome, doing business as Broome's Service Center, alleging he was injured as a result of Broome's negligence, wantonness, willfulness, and recklessness in failing to warn or give notice of the imminent danger presented by an unguarded grease pit. The trial court refused to charge the jury the law of the invitee, finding as a matter of law that Hoover was a licensee. The trial court also denied Hoover's motion for a directed verdict regarding Broome's liability for Hoover's accident. Finding no negligence, the jury returned a verdict for Broome. Hoover appealed, contending that the trial judge should have charged the jury with the law regarding the duty owed to an invitee because it was a question of fact for the jury to determine whether he was an invitee or a licensee at the time of his fall.
Did the trial court err in finding as a matter of law that Hoover was a licensee?
The Court agreed with Hoover’s contention, holding that Broome’s duty to protect Hoover from conditions on the property depended on whether the latter was an adult trespasser, a licensee, or an invitee at the time of the accident. One possible interpretation of the evidence was that Hoover was a public invitee. The fact that Broome did not receive an economic benefit from the Hoover's visit did not automatically relieve him from the duty to take reasonable care to protect members of the public from dangerous conditions. The Court held that the trial court should have charged the jury with the law regarding both licensees and invitees because Hoover’s status at the time of the injury was a question of fact for the jury.