Issue involves personal injury liability. My American Legion Post (Non-profit status under IRS Code 501(c)(19) Incorporated under the laws of the state of Georgia) owns a small piece of unimproved property. Property was purchased about 7 years ago for cash, looking to develop, but not enough acreage (1.3 ac) so it is on the market for sale. The property has no buildings, structures, or improvements and is not a right-of-way nor has open access except for a 90' road frontage. There are no functions oe activities done there and no reason for any person to be on the property. There is currently a $1M liability insurance umbrella which is becoming cost prohibitive. If we put up "Private Property/No Trespassing" signs on and around the property and someone enters uninvited and is injured, is the Legion Post liable for any injuries?
State/Country relating to question: Georgia
Spoke with current insurance company after premiums were raised. Was told we "needed to have sufficient liability insurance coverage" on the property even though there are no functions, activities or other purposes requiring a group of veterans or other audience. Premium is currently $164.00 per year.
You must have insurance despite your description of the property.
Here is a summary of the reasons for the insurance per GA law
Premises liability involves claims by an individual who is injured on the property of another. The injured party may bring a claim against the owner of the property or the person or entity occupying or controlling the property at the time of the injury. Liability for the claimant's injury is generally the same whether the injured party brings an action against an owner or an occupier. The main exception to this rule is that a landlord who has fully parted with possession and the right to possession is subject to a special statutory provision which is fully discussed in the section entitled [Landlord Liability]. For the purposes of discussion, the owner or occupier will be referred to as the "owner," and the person injured will be referred to as the "claimant."
The owner is not liable for a claimant's injury simply by virtue of the injury occurring on the owner's premises. The claimant must prove that the owner was negligent, and that the owner's Negligence caused the claimant's injury. The purpose of this text is to compare and contrast scenarios in which a jury must decide the owner's liability for the claimant's injuries with situations where the owner has no liability as a matter of law. In order to make this analysis, it is important to first have a basic understanding of the litigation process and summary judgment procedures.
After a complaint is filed by the claimant, the parties to the lawsuit engage in discovery which includes the taking of depositions of the parties, witnesses and experts and exchanging documentation with the opposing side. The defendant owner through counsel will usually file a motion for summary judgment at the close of discovery. The thrust of this motion is that even considering all the evidence gathered during the discovery process and viewing this evidence in a light most favorable to the claimant, the claimant cannot as a matter of law support a claim against the owner. By filing the motion, the owner has the chance of obtaining a dismissal of the claimant's action without incurring the additional cost and expense of trial. For the purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court assumes that the claimant's version of events is correct, and the motion must be denied if there is any genuine issue of material fact as to the owner's liability. Although the owner has the burden of persuasion on a motion for summary judgment, there are times when he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
A. CONDITIONS ON THE PREMISES
1. Status of Claimant
Who is the claimant? This question is the starting point of any analysis of a claim for a defective or hazardous condition on the premises. Georgia law has divided claimants into three separate categories: invitees, licensees and trespassers. An invitee is one who is induced by express or implied invitation to come onto an owner's property. The owner must exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe for the invitee. The typical invitee is a customer at a store but also includes an individual who is employed by the owner to perform work on the property or members of an organization participating in a meeting on the owner's property.
A licensee is one who is neither a customer, a servant nor a trespasser, is not in contractual relations with the owner of the premises and is permitted to come onto the owner's land for his own interests, convenience or gratification. A licensee is sometimes defined as a "social guest," a person who visits the property for the purposes of friendship and socialization. A licensee includes an insurance salesman making a sales call, an employer proceeding onto the owner's property to offer the owner a job, a fireman battling a blaze, and a security guard entering a warehouse in response to a burglar alarm. An invitee can lose his status and become a licensee if he ventures outside the boundaries of his invitation such as when a customer at a restaurant walks into a roped off area in the parking lot, returns to a restaurant after hours of operation, or opens a private cabinet in a restroom. A volunteer who performs work on the property without a request from the owner is a mere licensee even if the work benefits the owner.
An owner owes a licensee a duty to refrain from wantonly and recklessly exposing him to hidden perils. An owner can only be held liable to a licensee if he knows or has reason to know of a dangerous condition and fails to take reasonable steps to correct it or warn the licensee of the condition. This lesser duty exists as long as the licensee's actual presence on the property is not realized by the owner. Once a licensee's presence on the property is made known to the owner, the owner must exercise the same care toward the licensee as owed to an invitee, and the distinction between the duty owed to the licensee and the invitee ceases to exist.
A trespasser is one who, intentionally or by mistake, enters upon another's property without permission. An owner owes a trespasser the duty not to willfully or wantonly injure him. A child's status as a trespasser, licensee or invitee is not determined by the child's age or his capacity, and as such, the owner's duty to a child is not affected by the child's lack of maturity. The child's age is relevant in determining if the child can appreciate a danger and may expose an owner to greater liability in having to anticipate a trespassing child's lack of understanding of a dangerous condition. This idea is the central thrust of the [Attractive Nuisance] doctrine which defines an owners liability for allowing children access to certain hazards.
Sometimes the battle in a premises liability case is won by making a determination of the status of the claimant. Because there is a significant difference between a duty owed to an invitee and a licensee, an owner can sometimes prevail by lowering the status of the claimant. Georgia courts apply the "business relations" test in determining if a claimant is an invitee or licensee. The general test is whether or not the injured person at the time of the injury had present business relations with the owner of the premises which would render his presence of mutual aid to both or whether his presence on the premises was for his own convenience, or he had business with individuals other than the owner of the premises. If the relationship solely benefits the injured person, he can at most be a licensee.
7. Attractive Nuisance
Recognizing that children are almost magically drawn to certain man-made hazards such as machinery and railroad turntables, courts have created a legal fiction known as the attractive nuisance doctrine in an effort to force an owner to protect children from their own curiosity. Under this theory, an owner is potentially liable for injuries caused to a [Trespassing Child] if the injuries were caused by a dangerous man-made instrumentality or machinery which naturally attracts young children. The central idea behind this doctrine is that the owner should anticipate that a child would come onto the property because of the interesting nature of the machinery, and the owner should take precautions such as erecting a fence or other barrier to keep children away from the harm.
Georgia courts have been very cautious about applying this doctrine and have limited its use by adopting a five-part test for an owner's liability for a man-made condition. Under Georgia law, an owner of land is liable for physical harm caused by an artificial condition upon the land if:
(1) the place where the condition exists is one upon which the owner knows or has reason to know that children are likely to trespass, and
(2) the condition is one of which the owner knows or has reason to know and which he realizes or should realize will involve an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily injury to such children, and
(3) the children because of their youth do not discover the condition or realize the risk involved in intermeddling with it or in coming within the area made dangerous by it, and
(4) the utility to the owner of maintaining the condition and the burden of eliminating the danger are slight as compared with the risk to children involved, and
(5) the owner fails to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or otherwise to protect the children.
There must be evidence to support all five conditions, or the owner is entitled to summary judgment. Furthermore, the attractive nuisance doctrine is not applicable to a child who is a guest on the owner's property since the child is not a trespasser.
Under Georgia law, this doctrine does not apply to any natural condition on the property such as a pond or an embankment. It also does not generally apply to dangers presented by fire, falling from heights, or water hazards because children normally understand and appreciate the hazard presented by these elements. However, an issue for trial exists as to whether a conveyor belt in a packing shed is an attractive nuisance to children of migrant farm workers, and whether an unfenced swimming pool three blocks from an elementary school presents an attractive nuisance for nearby children.
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