New York law provides that owners and occupiers of land owe a duty to each entrant to exercise ordinary, reasonable care under the circumstances. Basso v. Miller, 40 N.Y.2d 233, 352 N.E.2d 868 (1976). This rule means that a property owner must take reasonable steps to ensure that the environment is safe to parties that may foreseeably come on to the premises. Unfortunately, there is no precise way to measure what is “reasonable,” though the law defines the term as what a person of ordinary intelligence and judgment would do under identical circumstances. Whether a landowner’s actions constitute “reasonable care under the circumstances” is a heavily litigated issue and this standard is susceptible to varying interpretations by a jury.
Historically, landowners owed differing degrees of responsibility to different classifications of people who came onto the landowner’s property. Property owners owed the highest degree of care to invitees, those persons invited onto the property for business reasons, such as customers of a business and job applicants. When invitees entered the property, owners owed a duty to inspect for and discover unknown dangers. Property owners owed a lesser duty of care to licensees, which are social guests permitted on the property for social purposes. The property owner was only required to take reasonable care to protect licensees from hazardous risks of which the owner is already aware. Trespassers, those not authorized to be on the premises, were owed “zero duty” where property owners were merely prohibited from willfully injuring trespassers.
New York no longer imposes premises liability determined by the plaintiff’s status as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. To the contrary, New York courts apply a single standard of care whereby the landowner’s duty is to “act reasonably to maintain safe conditions in view of all circumstances including likelihood of injury, seriousness thereof and burden of avoiding risk, with likelihood of plaintiff’s presence the primary factor in determining foreseeability.” Basso v. Miller, 40 N.Y.2d 233 (1976). Since the invitee, licensee, or trespasser distinctions were abandoned, the standard of reasonable care under the circumstances in a premises liability case in New York “should be no different than that applied in the usual negligence action.” Those injured on another’s property due to the property owner’s negligence may be awarded monetary damages for their injuries.