Whelan v. Van Natta

Procedural History

Whelan (Plaintiff) v. Van Natta (Defendant) (1964)

Trial court gave judgment for the D, and the P appealed.

–  Court held that the D was an invitee and the P owed no duty to provide a safe place, except to hat abstained from doing any intentional or willful act endangering his safety or knowingly letting P run upon a hidden peril (simply put, the D had a duty to warn the P of unknown dangers, in which the P knew about at the time).


–          Plaintiff went into defendant’s grocery store, purchased some cigarettes. He then asked about a box for his son, when the defendant, who was busy, told him to go to the back of the store, and grab a box – upon going in the back of the store, the plaintiff, fell, because there was no light on, in an invisible stairwell…

–          Defendant did not warn the P of the stairwell, that the light had been on that prior morning and he did not know whether or not that it was still on.


Is the Plaintiff, and invitee or a licensee?


At the time of which, when he fell, he was a licensee.


An invitee ceases to be an invitee after the expiration of a reasonable time within which to accomplish the purpose for which he is invited to enter or remain.

Court reasoning

–          One is an invitee as long as he/she stays within the scope of the invitation as well as the physical area of invitation

  • As the P went into the back of the store (for his own personal gains, and not the store owner) the P changed from an invitee to a licensee (not a trespasser) because he was there with the consent of the shop owner, and was there for the furtherance of his own purposes.

Quick Facts

–  Comparing someone between an invitee and licensee is very important because it establishes what type of duty, if any, the Defendant owes to the injured party.

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