Defenses for Landowners, Common Carriers, Innkeepers and Social Host Negligence

Defenses for Landowners, Common Carriers, Innkeepers and Social Host Negligence
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  • 0:04 Negligence
  • 1:07 Landowners
  • 2:45 Common Carriers
  • 4:29 Innkeepers
  • 6:10 Social Host
  • 7:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

To avoid a negligence claim, some parties must show others a high duty of care. Even in these cases, there are available defenses to negligence. This lesson explores landowners, common carriers, innkeepers and social hosts.

Negligence

Much of our civil law focuses on negligence torts. These torts are civil causes of action based on someone's negligence. Negligence is the failure to exercise a reasonable standard of care toward another person. In other words, courts examine how a reasonable person would have acted in the same or similar situation. Would a reasonable person juggle fire near a known gas leak? Or would a reasonable person drive while working on a laptop and also eating a steak dinner? These are examples of negligent behavior. If someone is hurt by this behavior, that person can sue for money damages.

Some parties are held to an even higher standard than that of a reasonable person. Because of their positions, certain parties are held to a heightened standard of care to others. Let's take a look at negligence and possible defenses for landowners, common carriers, innkeepers and social hosts.

Landowners

Let's start with landowners. A landowner is simply the party who owns the land on which the tort occurred. Let's say I'm at Ned's house. I'm in the backyard, and I accidentally fall into a large hole. I'm injured and would like to sue Ned. What standard of care did Ned owe me, and did he fail to fulfill that duty?

This answer depends on my legal status or why I was in Ned's yard. Let's say I'm a trespasser. I was in Ned's yard without Ned's permission. Generally speaking, this means that Ned doesn't owe me a duty of care. If I sue Ned, he can use this defense.

Now, let's say I'm a licensee. This means I was in Ned's yard with Ned's permission. Let's say Ned invited me to a backyard barbecue at his house. In this case, Ned has a duty to warn me about the hole or fix the hole but only if he knows about the hole. If Ned didn't know about it, then he can use that lack of knowledge as a defense.

Lastly, let's say I'm an invitee. This means I was in Ned's yard with Ned's permission and for a business purpose connected to the land. Let's say Ned hired me to fix the fence in his backyard. This time, Ned has a duty to warn me about the hole or to fix the hole. Ned has a duty to inspect the yard for any dangerous conditions. His lack of knowledge won't be a defense to negligence.

Common Carriers

Now let's take a look at common carriers. A common carrier is a business available to the public for the transportation of goods or passengers. This includes transportation services like airlines and taxi companies.

Common carriers owe their passengers the highest duty of care to provide safe transportation. This means that they must act with as much care as is reasonably possible considering the type of vehicle used and other practical aspects of the business operation. A failure to meet this duty is considered to be negligence.

For example, let's say Ned is a bus driver. I'm a passenger on Ned's bus. While I'm riding to work one day, Ned suddenly slams on the brakes, and I fall into the aisle. I'm injured and want to sue Ned and the bus company. I'll have to prove that Ned was negligent. If Ned was trying to find a song on the radio and almost rear-ended another vehicle, then Ned likely acted negligently. This is true even though a normal driver in his or her own car playing with the radio probably wouldn't be found negligent due to the short stop.

However, if a bicyclist suddenly turned in front of Ned, then Ned likely didn't act negligently. He can use the reasonableness of his actions, considering the circumstances, as a defense. For instance, Ned might offer evidence showing that buses typically take a longer amount of time to come to stop, thus making it necessary for him to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the bicyclist.

Innkeepers

Let's turn to innkeepers. An innkeeper is a person who provides accommodations to guests as a business. Innkeepers, like common carriers, owe guests a higher duty of care. An innkeeper acts negligently if he or she fails to reasonably protect a guest from foreseeable harm. This means the innkeeper either knew, or should have known, of the danger.

Let's say that Ned owns a bed and breakfast, and I'm his guest. I trip on a broken stair and am injured. I want to sue Ned. Ned used that staircase and saw the broken stair earlier that morning. As an innkeeper, he had a duty to immediately fix the stair or to warn me. However, if Ned just used that staircase and the stair was fine, then he likely didn't act negligently. He can use his reasonable lack of knowledge as a defense.

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