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What Is the Difference Between a Licensee, Invitee, And Trespasser?

Colburn Law

Navigating the legal landscape after an injury on another’s property can be daunting, especially when terms like licensee, invitee, and trespasser are introduced. Grasping these distinctions is pivotal, as each term determines the responsibility a property owner owes to a visitor. Here’s a deeper dive into these classifications.

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A licensee refers to an individual who, while on someone’s property, does so for their own reasons with the owner’s consent. Imagine a scenario where a homeowner allows a friend to set up a tent in their yard, or when a homeowner lets a telecommunications company access their backyard to mend a line. In both these cases, the visitors are termed licensees.

When it comes to licensees, property owners must highlight and warn of any existing dangers that they are aware of. If a licensee is hurt due to an owner’s failure to alert them about a known danger, the owner may face legal consequences. However, owners aren’t mandated to conduct routine checks for potential risks before a licensee’s visit.


An invitee is an individual who has been explicitly asked to be on the property for a specific, lawful purpose. This could range from a patron browsing items in a retail store or a person visiting a public park during his or her lunch break.

There are two types of invitees:

  • Business Invitees: Individuals who are present on a property for commercial purposes, such as a client visiting a consultancy firm.
  • Public Invitees: Individuals who are accessing areas open for public purposes, like attendees of a public library or park visitors during operational hours.

Property owners bear more substantial responsibility for invitees than licensees. If an invitee is injured, the owner can be held accountable if they were (or should have been) aware of the danger through customary property oversight. Owners are required to actively inspect for and address these hazards and warn visitors if any dangers arise. 


A trespasser is someone who, without permission or lawful justification, accesses or lingers on a property. This category includes someone illegally accessing a secured building or traversing private property without consent. 

In general, property owners have minimal obligations towards trespassers. They aren’t usually required to warn or safeguard them from potential dangers on the property. Nevertheless, property owners may not intentionally harm trespassers or display a willful or wanton disregard for their safety. 

Your Legal Options After an Accident on Someone’s Property

If you find yourself injured on someone else’s property, understanding whether you were a licensee, invitee, or trespasser at the time can significantly influence your legal recourse. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your accident, you could file a personal injury lawsuit or insurance claim against the property owner.

  • Generally, invitees are afforded the most protection under the law and can pursue legal action if the property owner fails to inspect the area for potential hazards or warn about known dangers. 
  • Licensees could pursue a claim if they weren’t warned about known dangers, but property owners aren’t typically obligated to conduct proactive inspections for their benefit. 
  • Trespassers have the least protection but could pursue a legal claim if intentional harm or egregious conduct is involved.

If you are not sure about your legal options, speak with a Washington premises liability attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer can carefully evaluate your case and identify your optimal path to financial recovery.