You might believe that as a property owner in New York, you only need to concern yourself with the safety of those that you invite into your home or onto your land. Yet your actual legal duty of care to visitors is quite a bit more complex. While you might think that those who trespass on your property assume whatever risks might be associated with being there, the law may sometimes disagree, placing the responsibility on you to ensure that even trespassers stay safe while on your premises.
The New York Bar Association cites the state’s civil Pattern Jury Instructions when detailing your duty of care to visitors. Here it states that you are required “to use reasonable care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition for the protection of all persons whose presence is reasonably foreseeable.” State court rulings have gone on to clarify that responsibility remains regardless of the status of visitors on your property. It has further been established that the scope of this responsibility depends on “the foreseeability of the possible harm.”
Exactly what does this mean? Say that you have a dog on your property that could potentially attack a guest or trespasser. While you will no doubt take steps to ensure that the dog remains contained and/or under control when visitors are over, you must also do the same in order to keep the dog from attacking a trespasser. Those steps may be as simple as displaying a “Beware of Dog” sign to keep the animal locked up when not attended.
Conversely, one who slips and falls on your property because of slick surfaces caused by ice, snow or rain may not be able to hold you liable due to you not being able to predict the rain.