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Mississippi Premises Liability – Part I

Over the next few post we’ll be sharing portions of our 2016 Mississippi Premises Liability publication. We hope this information is helpful,  But keep in mind that the application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved an this information it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with legal or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult with an attorney at Holcomb Dunbar

Mississippi Premises Liability – Part I

Premises liability is a theory of negligence which establishes the duty owed to someone injured on a landowner’s or occupier’s premises as a result of conditions or activities on the premises. In Mississippi, premises liability is distinguished by the classification of the complaining party between invitee, licensee and trespasser. Though the Mississippi Supreme Court has repeatedly been asked to abolish these distinctions the Court has declined to do so and continues to follow the practice of classifying a person who enters the land of another as an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. See Titus v. Williams, 844 So.2d 459 (Miss. 2003); see also Pinnell v. Bates, 838 So.2d 198 (Miss. 2002). In Pinnell, the Court stated “[t]here is no compelling reason to change our time-honored law on premises liability now. The distinctions between licensee and invitee have been developed over many years and have been grounded in reality.” Id. at 199.

ANALYZING A PREMISES LIABILITY CLAIM

Premises cases are analyzed under the general negligence standard. Did the premises owner breach a duty owed to the claimant which caused injury or damages — duty, breach, proximate cause and damages. However, to determine the particular duty and breach in a premises liability case, there is a three-step process.

See, Leffler v. Sharp, 891 So. 2d 152 (Miss. 2004).

WAS THE CLAIMANT AN INVITEE, LICENSEE, OR TRESPASSER

Mississippi maintains the distinction between invitee, licensee, and trespasser. When determining the status of an injured party, the facts must be examined and in particular the relationship between the injured person and landowner or occupier. The determination of whether an injured party is an invitee, licensee or trespasser can be a fact question for the jury, but if the facts are not in dispute then it becomes a question of law which may allow early resolution by summary judgment. Id. at 156.

TRESPASSER

A trespasser is “one who enters upon another’s premises without license, invitation or other right.” Hughes v. Star Homes, Inc., 379 So. 2d 301, 303 (Miss. 1980) (citing Kelley v. Sportsmen’s Speedway, Inc., 224 Miss. 632, 80 So. 2d 785 (1955). The Mississippi Supreme Court added that a trespasser enters another’s property “merely for his own purposes, pleasure, or convenience, or out of curiosity, and without any enticement, allurement, inducement or express or implied assurance of safety from the owner or person in charge.” Titus v. Williams, 844 So.2d 459 (Miss. 2003) (citing White v. Miss. Power & Light Co., 196 So.2d 343, 349 (Miss. 1967)).

Mississippi codified the definition and duty owed to a trespasser in the 2016 legislative session. See, Miss. Code Ann. § 95-5-31. The new law defines trespasser as “a person who enters upon the property of another without permission and without an invitation, express or implied, or other legal right.”

EXAMPLES

A man left the lounge area of the Quarter Inn, a restaurant and lounge in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and climbed through an open window leading to an adjacent rooftop terrace. It was a small window, three feet off the ground and 24 inches by 32 inches. Further, a locked glass door with “NOT AN EXIT” stenciled on the glass was only four feet away from the window. The man fell through the rooftop approximately twenty feet to the ground. The Court noted that he was an invitee at the time he entered the Quarter Inn, however, he became a trespasser when he climbed onto the rooftop terrace. Leffler v. Sharp, 891 So.2d 152 (Miss. 2004).

The local Parent Teacher Association was holding a Winter Carnival at East Tate Elementary School in Tate County. Anthony Gammel planned on attending the Winter Carnival and parked across the street from the school in the school’s bus parking lot. Anthony was struck by a motorist and killed as he attempted to walk across the roadway to the school. The Court noted the bus parking lot was limited to bus parking only and the lot was not used as parking for the general public. The Court held that Anthony was a trespasser on the school’s property when he chose to park in the bus parking lot. Additionally, the Court noted that Anthony lost his status as a trespasser the moment he stepped off the bus parking lot onto the public roadway, and thus was unable to establish any duty owed at the time of the accident by the school. Gammel v. Tate County School District, 995 So.2d 853 (Miss.Ct.App. 2008).

LICENSEE

“A licensee is one who enters upon the property of another for his own convenience, pleasure or benefit pursuant to the license or implied permission of the owner…” Little v. Bell, 719 So. 2d 757, 760 (Miss. 1998) (quoting Hoffman v. Planters Gin Co. Inc., 358 So. 2d 1008, 1011 (Miss. 1978)).

A “social guest” is classified as a licensee, or someone who enters a landowner’s or occupier’s premises for his own benefit, pleasure or convenience and with the implied permission of the owner or occupier. Grammar v. Dollar, 911 So.2d 619 (Miss.Ct.App. 2005).

EXAMPLES

Nunez was visiting her family and riding an ATV when she crashed into a barbed-wire fence and thrown from the ATV. She alleged that the ATV’s steering and brakes failed and that Spino was aware of the problems but failed to warn her. In finding that Nunez was a licensee, the Court noted that she was on Spino’s property riding his ATV for her own pleasure and benefit and she was clearly a social guest. The Court further noted that although Nunez on occasion does some work for Spino, she was merely visiting her family and was not performing any work on that particular day. Nuñez v. Spino, 14 So.3d 82 (Miss.Ct.App. 2009).

Plaintiff fell on a walkway and was injured while viewing a neighborhood outdoor Christmas display at the Millers’ residence. Every year the Millers decorated their property with lighting displays and other items symbolic of Christmas and allowed visitors to walk about the property and view the displays. The Millers did not charge admission or receive any form of monetary compensation from visitors to the property. In finding Daulton to be a licensee, the Court noted that the landowner did not receive any tangible form of consideration or obtain any business advantage from the visitors. Daulton v. Miller, 815 So.2d 1237 (Miss.Ct.App. 2001).

INVITEE

An invitee is a person who goes onto the premises of another at the express or implied invitation of the owner or occupant for their mutual advantage. Hoffman v. Planters Gin Co. Inc., 358 So. 2d 1008, 1011 (Miss. 1978); Langford v. Mercurio, 254 Miss. 788, 183 So. 2d 150 (1966); Wright v. Caffey, 239 Miss. 470, 123 So. 2d 841 (1960). Mutual advantage is needed to create invitee status.

EXAMPLES

A hired housekeeper has been found to be an invitee in determining the homeowner’s duty of care owed toward the housekeeper. Vaughn v. Ambrosino, 881 So.2d 847 (Miss.Ct.App. 2003).

Church members who do not exceed the scope of the church’s invitation are invitees while attending church for church services or other related functions. Clark v. Moore Memorial United Methodist Church, 538 So.2d 760 (Miss. 1989).

A customer who went to a laundromat as a patron and allegedly tripped and fell on a soft drink can in the parking lot would be considered a business invitee for purposes of premises liability. Ballard v. Watkins, 938 So.2d 298 (Miss.Ct.App. 2006).

A drive-thru restaurant patron that never placed an order because the drive-thru line was too long but instead decided to exit the drive-thru line and proceed to leave the restaurant’s premises was found to be an invitee. Magnusen v. Pine Belt Inv. Corp., 963 So.2d 1279 (Miss.Ct.App. 2007).

A teenager who was visiting his uncle at his uncle’s apartment complex and drowned while swimming in complex’s swimming pool was held to be an invitee. Handy v. Nejam, No. 2010-CA-01513-COA (Miss.Ct.App. Feb. 28, 2012). The Court noted that the teenager entered the premises as his uncle’s guest and was presumed to be an invitee under the law.

CHANGE IN STATUS

A person’s status can change depending on the circumstances. If an injured party goes beyond the bounds of their invitation, they may lose the invitee status and rights which accompany such. Dry v. Ford, 238 Miss. 98, 117 So.2d 456 (Miss. 1960).

EXAMPLES

An injured party who asked a garage owner to fix his truck was an invitee; however, when the injured party was allowed by the garage owner to use the facilities to fix his own truck he became a licensee. Id. at 458.

A customer enjoyed an invitation to visit a plant nursery during its operating hours and could thus be considered an invitee. However, one evening he went to the nursery while it was closed and was injured by a heating unit. The Court found that at that particular time he was at best a licensee and at worst a trespasser. Payne v. Rain Forest Nurseries, Inc., 540 So.2d 35, 38 (Miss. 1989).

A daily newspaper delivery person was assumed by the Court to be an invitee when he entered an office building to deliver and leave the morning newspaper for tenants in that building. One early morning, the newspaper deliverer entered the building, the lights were off and he decided to open a closed elevator door and place the newspapers on the elevator floor. He opened the closed door and attempted to place the newspapers in the elevator, however, he fell in the elevator shaft and injured himself as the elevator was not on that floor. The Court held that he went beyond his limits of invitation by opening a closed or fastened door and was thus a licensee at the time of his injury. Selby v. McWilliams Realty Corp., 246 Miss. 568, 151 So.2d 596 (Miss. 1963).

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