In Hackett v. Indian King Residents Association, the plaintiff, a resident of the defendant homeowners’ association, brought suit to recover for injuries she sustained after she fell on a common area leading to her town home in a residential community managed by the defendant. The residential community in which she lived is a mixed town home/single family residence community in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The plaintiff claimed that she could not see branches in the dark as she climbed the steps that evening. After two days of trial, the jury found that the defendant homeowners’ association was not negligent.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred by charging the jury that the plaintiff was a licensee rather than an invitee. Particularly, she argued that by paying maintenance fees, she became an invitee, and that the defendant’s business is that of property manager and thus it is responsible for keeping common areas safely maintained. Pursuant to the declaration of the homeowners’ association, the plaintiff used the common areas with the defendant’s permission.
The duty of the defendant to a licensee versus that of an invitee is different; the duty to an invitee is more stringent. The Court reviewed the definition of licensee, and also looked to the facts, determining that the plaintiff was a resident of the community, she used the common area with the defendant’s permission, not by invitation, and the declaration granted residents an easement of enjoyment regarding common areas. The Court found that this essentially conferred permission to each resident to use the common areas. The Superior Court found that the trial court properly instructed the jury that the plaintiff was a licensee, as there was no evidence offered that the plaintiff entered the property upon invitation or for a purpose for which land is held open to the public. The court noted that the distinction between invitation and permission forms the basis for distinguishing an invitee from a licensee. Thus, the trial court’s conclusion that the plaintiff was a licensee was affirmed on appeal.
Thanks to Alexandra M. Perry for her contribution to this post.