Sheehan v. St. Paul & Duluth Ry. Co.

76 Fed. 201 (7th Cir. 1896).

Sheehan is the plaintiff, he lost and appealed.


What is the duty a railway company owes to a trespasser and when does the duty arise?


The railroad company has the right to the track where crossings are not to be anticipated and does not need to anticipate trespassers there. The trespassers in those areas assume all the risks.


The plaintiff was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Affirmed.


The plaintiff was walking on the defendant’s railroad track. While doing so, he became stuck. A train approached and he was unable to free himself which caused a serious injury to his leg. The train workers did not see him until it was too late.


The place where the trespasser was discovered was in a place not open to travel. Therefore there is no constructive notice to the railroad company that they need to look out for trespassers in that location. As a result, if the company is following all the rules, they cannot be found liable. Instead, a duty arises at the moment of discovery of the trespasser. If the company discovers him late, and there is nothing they can do about it, then there is no fault.


Sometimes courts will alter this rule based on if the company was negligent, had discovered that there was an intruder, or if the intruder is too young to know of the risk.

Additional Notes

The railroad company can’t treat trespassers like outlaws, but they are not required to keep watch for trespassers. There is a duty once the trespasser is discovered (then you try to avoid injury).

Take the farmer example

  • No duty to prepare the land to make it safe for trespassers
  • If a trespasser is discovered, the only duty owed is to warn the trespasser of any potential dangers.

The only difference for railroads it that if the railroad is aware of a particular area where there is a high frequency of trespassers, then they need to be mindful of any particular dangers in that area.


Barmore v. Elmore

403 N.E.2d 1355 (Ill. App. 1980).

Barmore is the plaintiff, lost and appealed.


Do landowners/homeowners have a duty of care to a licensee?


A licensee is a person who comes to the landowner for their own purposes.

A licensee must take the premises for how it is found but the landowner must warn of any hidden dangers unknown to the guest.


There was no duty to warn, affirmed.


Plaintiff came to visit the defendant to discuss lodge business for the Masonic Lodge. As the plaintiff and defendant were talking, the defendant’s son came to the door with a steak knife and threatened the plaintiff. The father restrained his son for a time while the plaintiff left. However, the son escaped, chased the plaintiff and caused several injuries.

The son had a history of a mental illness.


There is a duty of care to warn a licensee of a potential danger on the premises. The plaintiff argued that the son was a danger, that the defendant knew of that danger, and that the danger was hidden from the plaintiff. Although the son had a history of mental illness and had been violent in the past, his last episode had been a significant past event. As such, his sudden outburst was unexpected for the defendant as well (did not know his son was a danger). This is further evidenced that the plaintiff had previously encountered the son before without incident.


Licensee < Invitee

Additional Notes

So, in this case was the plaintiff an invitee or a licensee?


A licensee is a person who is permitted to be on the property for their own purposes. They are on the property where the presence does not benefit the landowners but is tolerated by the landowner.

Additionally, a social guest is a licensee, even though they were invited on the property. Why? Because the guest is benefiting from the interaction. They should take the property “as it is”.

The duty that the landowner has to the licensee is to warn them of any hidden dangers that the landowner is aware of. Here, the defendant was not aware of any potential danger (according to the court).


An invitee is a person who is present for the purpose of conducting business. A person may not be welcome (e.g. an IRS agent coming to an audit), but they may still be considered an invitee. A person who confers an “incidental service” does not make it to the status of invitee, they are still a licensee.

What duty is owed to the invitee that is above that of a lisencee (meaning, do everything that you would for a licensee + what?)? The landowner also needs to exercise reasonable care to discover dangers that he did not know about previously.

Why wasn’t the plaintiff an invitee in this case even though he was conducting business? Because he was conducting business with the lodge, not with the defendant.


The difference between a licensee and an invitee is vital because it could change the outcome of the case. The family would have needed to discover the dangers of his son. He would have had a much better outcome because this would have at least gone to the jury.

Steps to consider

  1. Determine the status of the person visiting
  2. What duty do you owe?
  3. Would you want to waive certain defenses?


Campbell v. Weathers

111 P.2d 72 (Kan. 1941).

Plaintiff lost and appealed.


Is the person a trespasser, a licensee, or an invitee?


An invitee is a person who is invited onto the premises of another in connection with the business carried on by the landowner.

A landowner has a greater duty of care to an invitee.


Individual is an invitee, demurrer reversed.


The plaintiff came to the defendant’s store. He stood around for a while without buying anything before making his way to the bathroom. In the hallway he fell into an open trap door and was injured.

The plaintiff was a frequent customer of the defendant in the past.


The store is open to the public, meaning there is a general invitation. As such, even though the person made no purchase, he is an invitee because he is invited to even examine the new products. Therefore, the defendant owes a higher protection to him, because of his invitee status.


This case defines an invitee.

Additional Notes

What facts are key to determining the plaintiff’s status?

  • He had purchased items from the defendant in the past
  • The toilet was there for public use (according to defendant’s employees). This could draw in customers.

His condition was questionable, but enough to make his status a jury question.

Definition: An invitee is a person who is invited onto the premises of another in connection with the business carried on by the landowner.

Types of invitees

  • Business visitors (Doesn’t matter if they make a business)
  • Public invitees (Premises are open to the public)

The issue with this status concept is that it can be difficult to determine when a status changes. How do we determine this change? Should there be a distinction?

Whelan v. Van Natta

382 S.W.2d 205 (Ky. Ct. App. 1964).

Plaintiff lost and appealed.


Is the plaintiff an invitee or a licensee?


A person’s invitee status expires:

  1. After a reasonable time.
  2. The invitee goes outside the area of his invitation.


Left the area of his invitation after the invite had expired. Affirmed.


The plaintiff was a customer of the defendant. After making his purchase, he inquired the storekeeper of a box. The storekeeper said that he could look in the back of the shop for the box. While searching, he fell down a stairwell that the storekeeper and failed to inform him about (the lights being off).


The plaintiff had made his purchase and thus his invitee status had expired (looking for the box for his own purposes). However, even if it did not expire at that time, it would have expired when he went to the back of the shop. That is, he was invited into the main store to purchase items, not to look for a box. So, when he went to the back of the store for the box, he was not longer within the area of the invitation (despite the consent to be there) and had lost the invitee status.


This case determines when an invitee status expires.

Additional Notes

What could have changed in the conversation to make the plaintiff an invitee?

  • Plaintiff argues that he’s been back there before, he knew the storeowner, and this was a reason why he shopped there.

Does it matter though? He wasn’t warned of the hidden danger that the storeowner knew about. Shouldn’t this go to the jury anyways?

Other Categories


Because children are fragile, courts have been reluctant to provide the same duty on landowners that they would otherwise have. Children are often provided higher protections. Because of this, the attractive nuisance doctrine came into existence. The doctrine simply holds landowners liable for injuries children sustain do to an artificial feature of the land that entices the child to encounter the feature and sustain injuries.

Steps according to Restatement of torts § 339

  • Does the owner know that children are going to trespass?
  • There is a feature that could cause injury to the children, and the owner knows of that risk?
  • Children, because of their youth, don’t appreciate the danger
  • Conduct a burden/risk analysis

Persons privileged regardless of consent

Consider a public official such as a fireman, policeman, etc. They are privileged to enter, regardless of consent, but does that mean that we hold landowners to a different standard for these individuals? Courts have a diverse way of handling this topic by  treating these categories in several ways:

  1. As a licensee
  2. As an invitee
  3. Entitled to the duty of a licensee or invitee depending on other visitors
  4. As a separate category
  5. Entitled to reasonable care regardless of the position.

People usually have no duty to warn firefighters for the danger (“firefighter’s rule”). However, if the injury arose not from the fire but something independent, then the firefighter’s rule does not apply.

Likewise, how do we treat individuals who come onto the property to rescue someone or to flee another? What duty is owed to them?

Rejection or Merging of Categories

Rowland v. Christian

443 P.2d 561 (Cal. 1968).

Plaintiff lost and appealed.


Does a social guest at times need to be treated like a licensee?


There was a duty to warn. Reversed.


Plaintiff was a social guest of the defendant. Sometime during the interaction, the plaintiff used the bathroom and washed their hands. The cold water faucet was damaged as such that it injured the plaintiff. The defendant knew of the broken faucet and had reported it to the apartment owner but failed to warn the plaintiff of the faucet.


There are times when a licensee and an invitee should be treated as the same. This is because of the complexities associated with the two definitions. Either by exceptions, changes, or rules, the two almost seem intertwined. Luckily, there is no need to address that issue here because the plaintiff was required to warn of the issues in either case.

Additional Notes

The court here does not like the distinctions made between the statuses. That is because in the modern world, people don’t vary the way they act on the land. Here, the court removed these classifications. A person needs to use a standard of reasonable care in all circumstances.

How does this apply in Iowa? See Koenig v. Koenig. Removed the distinction between invitees and licensees but doesn’t say anything about trespassers. So, now the jury instructions say that that there needs to be reasonable care to “visitors”.

The effect of this is that more cases go to the jury rather than having a directed verdict.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.