THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE DUTY: PREMISES LIABILITY FOR PROPERTY OWNERS AFTER DIPUIS AND PARKER

When someone is injured on your property and files suit, what does Idaho law say about the duty of care owed to the injured person to prevent their injury? In Packer v. Riverbend Communications and Dupuis v. E. Idaho Health Servs., Inc., the Idaho Supreme Court recently defined that duty for property owners generally and hospitals specifically. In both cases, the Court found that the property owner owed the highest duty of care to the injured plaintiffs, perhaps signaling a new trend in premises liability law in Idaho. 

THE DUTY IS IN THE DETAILS

A property owner’s duty of care to injured persons who enter upon their land depends on the status of the person in relation to the landowner. Injured persons fall into three status categories: trespasser, licensee, or invitee. A trespasser is owed the lowest duty of care, and landowners must only refrain from wanton or willful acts that occasion injury. For licensees, or social guests, the landowner is only required to share knowledge of dangerous conditions or activities on the land. Landowners owe the highest duty of care to invitees, who enter the premises for a purpose connected with the business conducted on the land; or to confer a business, commercial, monetary, or other tangible benefit to the landowner. For invitees, landowners have a duty to warn of hidden or concealed dangers and keep the land in a reasonably safe condition. 

VENDORS ARE OWED THE HIGHEST DUTY OF CARE

In Packer v. Riverbend Communications, LLC, Nicole Packer was a vendor at a Christmas-themed expo when she was injured after falling off a dark loading dock upon exiting the building. Riverbend was leasing the building where the expo was held. Ms. Packer brought a premises liability claim against Riverbend, arguing that they were negligent by creating a dangerous condition on the property, and failing to warn of the hidden dangers. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Riverbend and dismissed the claim against them, holding that Ms. Packer was a licensee. The Idaho Supreme Court reversed on appeal, holding that the district court erred and Ms. Packer was an invitee because, as a vendor, she was at the expo center for a reason directly related to Riverbend’s business and she conferred a sufficient benefit on Riverbend by paying them a fee.

HOSPITAL VISITORS ARE OWED THE HIGHEST DUTY OF CARE 

What duty of care does a hospital owe to visitors on their property? The Idaho Supreme Court answered this question in a 2021 case, Dupuis v. E. Idaho Health Servs., Inc. There, Plaintiff Victor Dupuis was visiting his wife in the hospital, when he slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot. Mr. Dupuis sued the hospital, arguing that it breached its duty of care to him as an invitee by failing to keep the parking lot in a reasonably safe condition. Mr. Dupuis argued that the hospital failed to adequately remove the snow and ice in its parking lot, which caused his fall. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the hospital and dismissed the case in part because it held that Mr. Dupuis was a licensee. Just as in Packer, Idaho’s highest Court reversed, holding that hospital visitors like Mr. Dupuis are considered invitees and are owed the highest duty of care, because they would not be on the hospital property “but for” the business being conducted on the land. 

INSIGHTS FOR GF CLIENTS

In premises liability cases, where a plaintiff claims that the landowner’s negligence caused them injury due to a dangerous condition on the land, motions for summary judgment concerning the landowner’s duty of care are common. In Packer and Dupuis, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed summary judgment for landowners, holding that the district court erred when defining the injured person as a licensee, rather than an invitee, and requiring the landowner to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of known dangers. These cases may result in less favorable summary judgment decisions for landowners and fewer decisions finding that guests on a business owner’s properties are licensees, particularly if the injured person is on the property for a purpose that is in any way connected with the business conducted on the land. 

Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other issues facing your company.