Carter v. Kinney (Missouri 1995)

Definitions: “A social guest is a person who has received a social invitation.”

Procedural History: The trial court sustained the Kinneys’ summary judgment motion on the ground that Mr Carter was a licensee and that the Kinneys did not have a duty to a licensee with respect to a dangerous condition of which they had no knowledge. An appeal followed. Mr. Carter claims he was instead an invitee, although visitor classification is a question of law and so summary judgment would be appropriate if the defendants’ conduct conforms to the standard of care Mr. Carter’s statute imposes on them.

Facts: Ronald and Mary Kinney hosted a Bible study at their house for members of Northwestern Bible Church. Carter was a member of the Church and arrived at 7 am the morning of February 3, 1990 for the Bible study. Ronald Kinney had shoveled the driveway the previous evening, but was not aware that ice had accumulated overnight. Carter slipped on the Kinneys’ driveway and broke his leg. Church members interested in attending the Bible study signed up at the church, which encouraged enrollment but did not solicit contributions or issue an invitation to the general public. The Carters and the Kinneys had not engaged in social interaction outside of church prior to the incident and the parties agree that the Kinneys received neither a financial nor other tangible benefit from Mr. Carter in connection with the Bible study class.

Issue: What does a visitor’s status to property convey about the property owner’s required standard of care to the visitor?

Rules: “[T]he particular standard of care that society recognizes as applicable under a given set of facts is question of law for the courts.”

Premises liability cases recognize 3 broad classes of plaintiffs: trespassers, licensees, and invitees.

All entrants to land are trespassers until the possessor of the land gives them permission to enter. A possessor owes a trespasser no duty of care.

All persons who enter a premises with permission are licensees until the possessor has an interest in the visit, such that the visitor “has reason to believe that the premises have been made safe to receive him.” The possessor owes a licensee the duty to make safe dangers of which the possessor is aware. And the possessor owes invitees the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect them against both known dangers and those that would be revealed by inspection.

An entrant becomes an invitee when the possessor invites with the expectation of a material benefit from the visit or extends an invitation to the public generally.

Application: Because the Kinneys were not receiving any material benefit for the Carters’ visit and because the Bible study was limited to a small group of members from the Church, Mr. Carter was a licensee on the Kinneys’ property and therefore the Kinneys did not owe a duty to make safe dangerous conditions that they were unaware.

Conclusion: The Court held that there “is no reason for concluding it is unjust to the parties … to put a social guest in the legal category of licensee.”

The court concludes that the trial court concluded as a matter of law that Mr. Carter was a licensee, and that the Kinneys had no duty to protect him from unknown dangerous conditions. The Kinneys were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Judgment affirmed.

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