The common assumption is that if you suffer an injury on another person’s property in Bethesda, the property owner is automatically liable. Such thinking is reasonable, given that you would expect no one would allow you on to their property without firstly ensuring you will be safe there.

Yet that assumption overlooks the fact that one’s presence on another’s property is not always welcome. Indeed, the law recognizes this by categorizing visitors to a property into distinct classifications.

What type of visitor are you?

Maryland state court rulings demonstrate that the state recognizes four different classifications of visitors. They are:

  • Invitees
  • Licensees
  • Bare licensees
  • Trespassers

You are an invitee if you accept an invitation extended by the property owner to come on to the premises. When operating as a licensee, you may on to a person’s property legally to perform a service (this applies if you are utility worker or a public safety officer). A bare licensee is one who occupies a property with permission of the property owner but does not have any ownership in it (such as cases where you are a residential or commercial tenant). Finally, you are a trespasser if you venture on to a property without the property owner’s permission.

The law in Washington, D.C. recognizes similar classifications without differentiating licensees from bare licensees.

Defining a property owner’s duty of care

If you are a licensee, bare licensee or a trespasser, the only duty of care a property owner owes to you is to not purposely cause you harm (there may be exceptions if you are a trespasser and the property owner reasonably feels threatened by your presence). However, when you are an invitee, the property owner must exercise all caution in identifying and correcting any conditions of the property that could be a danger to you.