Heins v. Webster Cnty.

250 Neb. 750, 552 N.W.2d 51 (1996)



In order to ascertain the duty owed by landowners to entrants upon their land, courts have classified entrants as either licensees, invitees, or trespassers. Landowners owe invitees the duty of reasonable care to keep the premises safe for the use of the invitee. An invitee is a person who goes on the premises of another in answer to the express or implied invitation of the owner or occupant on the business of the owner or occupant or for their mutual advantage. However, courts have limited the duty that a landowner owes to a licensee. A licensee has been defined as a person who is privileged to enter or remain upon the premises of another by virtue of the possessor's express or implied consent, but who is not a business visitor. An owner or occupant of premises owes only the duty to refrain from injuring a licensee by willful or wanton negligence or designed injury, or to warn him, as a licensee, of a hidden danger or peril known to the owner or occupant but unknown to or unobservable by the licensee, who is required to exercise ordinary care. A business visitor is considered an invitee, and thereby receives a higher degree of care, reasonable care, ostensibly because he or she conveys some benefit upon the landowner.


The licensee was visiting his daughter at the landowner's premises when he slipped and fell on an ice patch. He filed a case against the landowners in a personal injury claim. Using common-law classifications, the court found that he was not a business visitor and thus, the landowner owed him a limited duty. The landowner did not act willfully or wantonly or fail to warn of known dangers unobservable by the licensee. The licensee appealed, contending that he was an invitee and further questioning the validity of the common-law classifications of licensee, invitee, and trespasser for purposes of determining the duty of a landowner in premises liability cases.


Are landowners and occupants burdened with a duty of reasonable care for the maintenance of their property in relation to all visitors upon their premises?




Concluding that modern society did not contemplate such traditional classifications, the court eliminated the distinction between licensees and invitees by requiring a standard of reasonable care for all lawful visitors. The court, however, retained a separate classification for trespassers, reasoning that a landowner should not owe a duty to exercise reasonable care to those not lawfully on one's property. Having abandoned the invitee-licensee distinction, the court applied the new rule to the licensee's case and reversed judgment. The court cautioned that the new rule applied prospectively to cases arising after the opinion date.

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