In Lefont v. City of Myrtle Beach, the SC Court of Appeals reversed an Horry County Circuit Court’s decision to grant a directed verdict (dismissal after the plaintiff’s case has been presented) to the City of Myrtle Beach, allowing Lefont’s premises liability claim to go forward.
The Court of Appeals found that there was sufficient evidence that Lefont was an invitee, rather than a licensee, and therefore the City of Myrtle Beach owed a greater duty of care to Lefont to prevent injury from a pothole in the Myrtle Beach Convention Center’s parking lot.
What is a “licensee” and how is that different from an “invitee?” How does the victim’s status affect a slip and fall or trip and fall premises liability case in SC?
Status of the Injured Person
Lefont was a vendor participating in a trade show at the Convention Center. After receiving permission from security to park in the employee parking lot while unloading products for the trade show, she tripped and fell in a pothole, suffering severe injuries to her arms:
After receiving permission to park, LeFont walked toward the Convention Center and tripped over a small pothole and fell. LeFont sustained injuries in the fall, including a broken wrist, a broken forearm, and two broken elbows.
The Convention Center (and City of Myrtle Beach) owes a duty of care to persons entering their property, but that duty of care is different depending on the status of the person. The trial court found that she was a licensee, which would provide fewer protections for her, and granted a directed verdict – finding that there was no evidence the City violated its duty of care to a licensee.
What is a Licensee?
A property owner owes a duty of care to a licensee, but it affords less protection than what is required for an invitee. The property owner has a duty to know where the licensee is while on their property, not to “conduct activities on the land” that would harm the licensee, and to warn the licensee of any concealed dangers:
The nature and scope of duty in a premises liability action, if any, is determined based upon the status or classification of the person injured at the time of his or her injury. Sims v. Giles, 343 S.C. 708, 715, 541 S.E.2d 857, 861 (Ct. App. 2001). “A landowner owes a licensee a duty to use reasonable care to discover the licensee, to conduct activities on the land so as not to harm the licensee, and to warn the licensee of any concealed dangerous conditions or activities.” Landry v. Hilton Head Plantation Prop. Owners Ass’n, Inc., 317 S.C. 200, 203, 452 S.E.2d 619, 621 (Ct. App. 1994).
A licensee has consent to enter the premises, but the benefit is primarily to the licensee and not the property owner:
A licensee is a person who is privileged to enter or remain upon land by virtue of the possessor’s consent. Neil v. Byrum, 288 S.C. 472, 473, 343 S.E.2d 615, 616 (1986). “When a licensee enters onto the property of another, the primary benefit is to the licensee, not the property owner.” Hoover v. Broome, 324 S.C. 531, 535, 479 S.E.2d 62, 64 (Ct. App. 1996). “A licensee is a person whose presence is tolerated, a person not necessarily invited on the premises, but one who is privileged to enter or remain on the premises only by the property owner’s express or implied consent.” Sims, 343 S.C. at 720, 541 S.E.2d at 863-64.
For example, a shopper in a grocery store would be an invitee and not a licensee – they have permission to enter the premises, but the primary benefit is to the property owner who is receiving money from the shopper.
What is an Invitee?
When a person enters a property in connection with the property owner’s business and where the benefit is to the property owner or there is a mutual benefit, the person is considered an invitee:
By contrast, an invitee is a person who enters onto the property of another “by express or implied invitation, his entry is connected with the owner’s business or with an activity the owner conducts or permits to be conducted on his land, and there is a mutuality of benefit or a benefit to the owner.” Id. at 716-17, 541 S.E.2d at 862 (quoting 62 Am.Jur.2d Premises Liability § 87 (1990)). “The law recognizes two types of invitees: the public invitee and the business visitor.” Id. at 717, 541 S.E.2d at 862.
A public invitee is a person who is on public lands – for example, a city or state park:
“A public invitee is one who is invited to enter or remain on the land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public.” Goode v. St. Stephens United Methodist Church, 329 S.C. 433, 441, 494 S.E.2d 827, 831 (Ct. App. 1997).
A business invitee is someone who enters the property for a purpose related to the property owner’s business or the invitee’s business if it is related to the property owner’s business:
[T]he class of persons qualifying as business visitors is not limited to those coming upon the land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with the business conducted thereon by the possessor, but includes as well those coming upon the land for a purpose connected with their own business, which itself is directly or indirectly connected with a purpose for which the possessor uses the land.
The property owner owes a greater duty of care to an invitee, and must make a reasonable effort to discover dangerous conditions and either warn about them or eliminate them before someone is injured:
“Unlike a licensee, an invitee enters the premises with the implied assurance of preparation and reasonable care for his protection and safety while he is there.” Id. (quoting Bryant v. City of North Charleston, 304 S.C. 123, 128, 403 S.E.2d 159, 161 (Ct. App. 1991)). “A landowner owes an invitee a duty of due care to discover risks and to warn of or eliminate foreseeable unreasonable risks.” Id.
The Court of Appeals held that sufficient evidence had been presented for the jury to find that Lefont was an invitee and not a licensee – the purpose for her visit to the property was the trade show which benefitted both her own business and the property owner’s business.
Property owners do not owe a duty of care to trespassers, although there are some exceptions such as the doctrine of attractive nuisance. For example, if a swimming pool, playground, or other feature of the land would attract children onto the property, the property owner may be held liable for a dangerous condition even if the children are trespassing when they are injured.
If you have been injured because of a ‘slip and fall’ or ‘trip and fall’ on someone else’s property, call 843-353-3449 or complete our contact form for a free initial consultation with a Myrtle Beach slip and fall lawyer on the Axelrod team.