Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Garage Sale Follow-up Turns into Premises Liability Lawsuit

What responsibility do you have to people who come to your home unannounced? If a garage sale follow-up visitor comes back after the sale is over, do you have to pay for injuries that happen on your property? A recent Michigan Court of Appeals premises liability lawsuit, Kelsey v Lint, considers what happens when someone comes to your door.

On August 30 and 31, 2013, Nita Lint held a garage sale. Carolyn Kelsey shopped the sale on the first day, and then at about 5:00 on second day, returned for a garage sale follow-up, asking after an item she hadn’t purchased the first time. As she got out of the vehicle, Lint’s dog ran from behind the house and bit Kelsey in the leg, before she ever got to the door. The dog bite resulted in a premises liability lawsuit, in which Kelsey argued Lint was negligent in her control of the dog.

Premises Liability Lawsuit Turns on the Definition of “Trespasser”

The success of Kelsey’s premises liability lawsuit depended on whether she was a “trespasser” or a “licensee” on Lint’s property. Property owners and landlords are required to take different degrees of care depending on the injured person’s status on the premises:

  • Invitees are the people you expressly invite to come on your property. 
  • Licensees are people who have a legal reason to be on your property. 
  • Trespassers are people who are on your property illegally.

When Lint hosted a garage sale at her home, she invited visitors on her property to shop and buy her items. But once the sale ended, so did the invitation. The question for the court was whether Kelsey’s garage sale follow-up made her a licensee or a trespasser

“No Soliciting” Signs and a License to Door-Knock

The trial court said that Kelsey was a trespasser as a matter of law; that there was no way a reasonable jury could decide she had a legal reason to be on the property. But the Court of Appeals disagreed. The judges relied on a U.S. Supreme Court case saying that in the U.S., cultural habits grant an implied license for unexpected visitors to approach the front door and knock. The Supreme Court said that applied to Girl Scouts, trick-or-treaters, and police officers alike. In this case, the Michigan Court of Appeals said it also applied to someone doing a garage sale follow up visit.

Lint’s attorneys argued that the small “no soliciting” sign on her door negated the culturally implied license to door-knockers. But the court seemed to say that more was necessary under the circumstances. The court noted that the Lint’s property had no gate or fence, and no “no trespassing” signs visible from the street. Visitors could not see the “no soliciting” sign without first pulling into the driveway. Because Kelsey was injured as soon as she stepped out of her car, and before she could see the “no soliciting” sign, the court found that a reasonable jury could decide that Kelsey was still a licensee on the property.

An uncontrolled dog is just one of many potential dangers to licensees on a person’s property. When someone is injured on the way to the front door, they may have a claim in a premises liability lawsuit against the owner. But this is a detailed area of the law. The individual circumstances in each case can make the difference between a successful lawsuit as a licensee and a dismissal against a trespasser.

Dani K. Liblang is a personal injury accident attorney at The Liblang Law Firm, P.C., in Birmingham, Michigan. She helps those injured due to landowner negligence recover through premises liability lawsuits. If you have been severely injured on someone else’s property, contact The Liblang Law Firm, P.C., for a consultation.

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