What is the difference between an invitee, licensee, and trespasser?

Historically, the law classifies visitors on a property as either invitees, licensees, or trespassers. This would be important in the event of an accident, as it may affect the injured party’s ability to file a claim for damages.

Most states still use this classification system. However, in 1976, New York abandoned this differentiation between classifications of visitors to a property. Let’s examine how these classifications once worked, and how New York now determines the property owner’s duty of care.

How does New York law classify visitors to a property?

New York used to classify visitors on a property in one of three ways:

  • Invitees (those whom the landowner explicitly invited onto the property, e.g., a friend, family member, customer)
  • Licensees (those who have implicit permission to remain on the premises, e.g., a door-to-door salesman)
  • Trespassers (those with no right to enter the property)

Under this system, the duty of care an owner owes to a visitor depends on the visitor’s classification. Property owners owe the highest duty to invitees, while they owe no duty to trespassers.

Now, New York measures a property owner’s duty to maintain safe conditions on the premises by the foreseeability of a visitor on the property, regardless of the visitor’s status.

How can I tell if I can file a claim against a New York property owner?

First, you must meet the following four elements of a premises liability case:

  • Duty of care: The property owner owed others a duty of care to keep the property free from hazards.
  • Breach of duty: The property owner failed to maintain the property in a safe manner, which may include disrepair of the property or lack of warning signs.
  • Causation: The owner’s negligence directly caused your injuries.
  • Damages: You sustained actual harm and losses, e.g., injuries, medical bills, and loss of wages.

If you apply these elements to the three visitor classifications, keeping in mind New York’s use of “foreseeability of visitors” to determine duty of care, you might get situations like these.


If a friend invited you to their house for a pool party and you tripped on a garden hose he left out, you might be able to file a claim for the damages you sustained in the fall.


If you were going around your neighborhood putting flyers on doors for your landscaping business and a home had an unrestrained dog in the yard with no warning signs, you might be able to hold the owner liable for your damages if the dog attacks.


Claiming damages as a trespasser is difficult because you are first at fault for trespassing on the property. If there were warning signs and barriers you ignored or avoided and still sustained injury, you might not have a significant case. However, if you can prove the property owner placed hazards maliciously with the intent to harm trespassers, you might have a claim.

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If you sustained an injury on someone else’s property, call Goldstein & Bashner to discuss your case. You may be entitled to compensation for your losses. We can help prove liability under New York law and maximize the value of your claim.

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