The duty of care landowners owe to those on their property

Like many other states, Oklahoma has abolished the traditional distinction between "licensees" and "invitees" on to a piece of property. Now, if a person is on the property of another, whether it is to visit someone's home or patronize a business, then the owner of the property has a duty to use reasonable care to protect them from dangerous conditions on the property.

This duty of reasonable care is not unlimited, even with respect to people who have permission or some sort of legal authority to be on the land. For example, the landowner has no duty to warn or protect a guest from the results of that guest's own abuse of the land or other actions that could cause someone to get hurt. They also have no obligation to warn guests of some problem about which they do not know and could not have found out without doing a lot of digging. In legal language, these hard-to-find problems are called "latent defects" in the property.

People should also be aware that Oklahoma law continues to treat people who do not have permission to be on another person's land, called "trespassers," differently. Generally speaking, a landowner cannot go out of his or her way to hurt a trespasser but has no affirmative obligations to warn or protect him or her from danger, particularly if the trespasser has not been seen on the property. In some limited cases, a landowner may have an obligation to warn a trespasser of impending danger.

The bottom line is that if people in Ponca City or elsewhere in the state choose to allow people on to their land, they are also committing to keeping them reasonably safe and secure. When they fail in this responsibility, someone who is injured as a result can sue via a premises liability cause of action.

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