The highest degree of care a landowner owes is the duty of reasonable care toward those entrants classified as invitees. Specifically, a landowner owes an invitee a duty to use ordinary care to keep his property reasonably safe and to warn of hidden perils or unsafe conditions that could be discovered by reasonable inspection and supervision. A landowner's duty toward a licensee, on the other hand, is significantly less stringent. The duty of care owed to a licensee by an owner or possessor of land ordinarily is to refrain from doing the licensee willful injury and from wantonly and recklessly exposing him to danger. Thus, a licensee enters another's premises at his own risk and enjoys the license subject to its concomitant perils.
The landowner requested that the injured person pick him up at his house for a business meeting that the two were attending, and the injured person tripped over a stick that the landowner had inadvertently left lying on his porch. The injured person filed a negligence action for damages against the landowner and his wife for the injuries that he sustained in the fall. The trial court granted summary judgment for the landowner and his wife, and the Court of Appeals (North Carolina) affirmed. The injured person appealed to the Supreme Court of North Carolina.
Can a landowner's act of leaving a stick on his porch constitute negligence entitling the injured party to damages?
The case was remanded to the appellate court for further remand to the trial court. The Court held that the state law at the time of the accident was that the standard of care that a landowner owed to persons entering upon his land depended upon the entrant's status as to whether the entrant was a licensee, invitee, or trespasser. The court held that the injured person was entitled to a trial at which the jury was to have been instructed under the new rule adopted by the court. The court adopted a new rule in premises-liability cases, requiring a standard of reasonable care toward all lawful visitors and eliminating the distinction between licensees and invitees. The court retained a separate classification for trespassers. The court found that the new rule was to have been applied retroactively.