When it comes to premises liability in New York, you may hear that liability rests on the degree of care you owe to the injured party. But what is a degree of care when it comes to the law, and to whom do you owe it? Understanding state negligence and liability laws can help clarify this issue.
A degree of care in legal terms is the responsibility to protect a specified party from harm. In other words, it signifies that you have the legal duty to keep someone safe to the degree that you are reasonably able to do so. Distinguishing the degree of care that I owe those who enter my property rests on the legality of their entry.
If you invite a guest onto your property, they have a legal right to be there, and you would owe them a degree of care. This includes both verbal invitations and implied. For example, if a salesperson walks onto the lawn to speak to you and you do not object, a court would likely rule that he or she is an invitee.
You typically do not owe a duty of care to a trespasser or someone who enters your property unlawfully. In the state of New York, however, you may still be liable if you knew the trespasser was present and did not make a reasonable effort to stop them.
Certain workers and contractors also have a legal right of entry regardless of your presence or invitation. For example, a land surveyor may enter your property so long as he or she makes a reasonable effort to notify you, carries identification and operates at reasonable hours and distance of the target property.
One troublesome doctrine for many property owners is that of attractive nuisance. If you have conditions or materials on your property that would likely be attractive to children, and you do not make reasonable efforts to deter them from it, a court may hold you responsible for any injuries they sustain.
None of these nuances limit the liability of property owners for gross negligence or willful harm. But they may determine your liability for preventable accidents.