Heins v. Webster County (Nebraska, 1996)

Procedural History: Heins claimed that Webster County was negligent. The district court found that Heins was a licensee at the hospital and as such the hospital had no duty to make unknown dangerous conditions safe for him, and the court entered judgment in favor of Webster County. Heins appealed and questions the continued usefulness of the licensee and invitee classifications.

Facts: After heavy snowfall, plaintiff Roger Heins and his wife visited Webster County Hospital to visit his daughter, Julie Heins, who was the director of nursing for the hospital. Heins claims that his visit was not only social, but also to coordinate plans for him to play Santa Claus for the hospital staff during the Christmas season. The Heins made plans to have lunch with Julie and a friend at a local restaurant. As Roger was leaving through the main entrance, he slipped on ice and snow and injured his hip.

Issue: Should an entrant’s status determine the duty that a landowner owes to him or her?

Rules: Among the factors to be considered in evaluating whether a landowner or occupier has exercised reasonable care for the protection of lawful visitors will be:

  1. The foreseeability or possibility of harm
  2. The purpose for which the entrant entered the premises
  3. The time, manner, and circumstances under which the entrant entered the premises
  4. The use to which the premises are put or are expected to be put
  5. The reasonableness of the inspection, repair, or warning
  6. The opportunity and ease of repair or correction or giving of the warning; and
  7. The burden on the land occupier and/or community in terms of inconvenience or cost in providing adequate protection.

Application: Because the invitee-licensee distinction should not bar the instant plaintiff from recovering, the new rule above will be put into effect and it will not matter whether Hein was visiting his daughter or entering as a patient of the hospital.

Conclusion: Trial court reversed and new trial remanded. The distinction between licensee-invitee is abandoned and a standard of reasonable care is required for all lawful visitors.

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