Generally speaking, whenever a property owner violates his or her duty of care to someone who enters the property, and the person who enters the property is injured as a result, the property owner may be held liable for the visitor’s resulting damages. In Texas, property owners owe varying duties of care to different types of property visitors.
Texas recognizes three types of property visitors:
- Invitees: An invitee is someone who lawfully enters a property for the mutual benefit (often, though not always, financial in nature) of both the invitee and the property owner. A customer at a retail store is an example of an invitee.
- Licensees: A licensee is someone who lawfully enters the property but for his or her own purposes, not necessarily for the benefit of the property owner. Salespeople, meter readers, and mail delivery people are examples of licensees.
- Trespassers: A trespasser is someone who unlawfully enters a property without the implied or expressed consent of the property owner. Someone who takes a “shortcut” across private land would be considered a trespasser.
Property owners owe the highest duty of care to invitees, followed by licensees. In Texas, property owners must remove, repair, and/or warn of dangerous conditions that could cause foreseeable injury, as well as conduct routine property maintenance for the benefit of invitees. While they are not required to conduct property maintenance to protect licensees, they must warn such visitors of potential hazards on the property.
When it comes to trespassers, Texas property owners must simply refrain from causing willful or intentional injury. They do not owe trespassers a duty of care, with the exception of minors (unmarried individuals under the age of 18).
If the trespasser was a child or teen under the age of 18, the property owner could still be liable under the state’s attractive nuisance laws, which hold property owners accountable for hazardous conditions that may attract children or teens to a property. Examples of attractive nuisances include swimming pools, trampolines, ponds, animals, and more.