Pinnell v. Bates, 2001-CA-00802-SCT.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation838 So.2d 198
Docket NumberNo. 2001-CA-00802-SCT.,2001-CA-00802-SCT.
PartiesShirley Annette PINNELL v. Patsy BATES.
Decision Date05 September 2002

838 So.2d 198

Shirley Annette PINNELL

No. 2001-CA-00802-SCT.

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

September 5, 2002.

Rehearing Denied March 6, 2003.

Phillip David Bridges, Brandon, attorney for appellant.

Matthew D. Miller, S. Robert Hammond, Jr., Hattiesburg, attorneys for appellee.


WALLER, J., for the Court.

¶ 1. While Patsy Bates was in the process of moving into her new house in Carson, Mississippi, she invited her friend Shirley Annette Pinnell over to visit. Pinnell arrived between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m., and the two visited with one another, had tea and coffee, cleaned and unpacked. At approximately 9:00 p.m., Pinnell exited the front door and fell from the concrete steps onto the concrete porch, breaking a finger and her leg.

¶ 2. Pinnell filed a complaint against Bates in the Circuit Court of Jefferson Davis County, alleging that Bates was negligent in failing to warn her of the slippery steps, to provide a hand rail, to provide sufficient lighting, and to reduce the slipperiness of the steps. Bates filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that Pinnell was a licensee rather than an invitee and that Pinnell had shown no evidence of willful and wanton conduct on the part of Bates. The circuit court granted the motion, finding, as a matter of law, that Pinnell was a licensee, and that Bates owed no duty to Pinnell as a licensee. On appeal, we refuse to abolish the common law distinctions between licensee and invitee. However, we find that a jury question was created as to whether Pinnell was a licensee or an invitee. We therefore reverse and remand the grant of summary judgment to Bates.



838 So.2d 199

¶ 3. We decline to accept Pinnell's invitation to abolish the legal distinctions between licensees and invitees. Eliminating the distinction curtails the right of unbridled use of private property. The concept that "a man's home is his castle" is the shield of protection for the owner of the humblest one-room shack as well as the owner of a large estate.

¶ 4. Homeowners1 would be exposed to greater liability and would have to shoulder a heavier burden. Worse still, a jury would have the power to decide whether a homeowner has arranged the living room furniture or maintained his yard in a reasonable manner, purchased the correct "non-slip" flooring or contracted with the correct construction crew to repair the home.

¶ 5. The distinction between a business visitor, heretofore considered an invitee, and a social visitor, heretofore considered to be a licensee, would be abolished, and the duty owed to a social guest would be identical to the duty owed to a business invitee. Eliminating homeowners' protection from liability for injuries sustained by social guests would impose on the homeowners the same standard and duty a commercial enterprise such as Wal-Mart owes to its customers. However, in reality, there are enormous differences between businesses and residences:

Businesses extend invitations to prospective customers, clients, etc., to come to their places of business for commercial purposes. Persons so coming are, for the most part, personally unknown to those extending the invitation. It is anticipated these invitees will roam freely about the public areas of businesses, and a part of the cost of doing business is providing reasonably safe premises. These establishments are, ordinarily, professionally designed, built, and equipped. Safety and convenience account for much of their sterile uniformity.
Residences are designed to please the homeowners and meet their needs and wants. A residence reflects the homeowners' individuality and is equipped and operated by the homeowners according to how they want to live. We live in the age of the do-it-yourselfer. Few homes would meet OSHA's standards, and few individuals would desire to live in such a home. Modern businesses do not have polished hardwood floors, throw rugs, extension cords, rough flagstone paths, stairways without handrails, unsupervised small children, toys on the floor, pets and all the clutter of living—homes do. There are good reasons behind the old adage that most accidents occur in the home.

Jones v. Hansen, 254 Kan. 499, 867 P.2d 303, 317-18 (1994) (McFarland, J., dissenting).

¶ 6. There is no compelling reason to change our time-honored law on premises liability now. The distinctions between licensee and invitee have been developed over many years and are grounded in reality.

¶ 7. There appears to be little change in the number of states that have chosen to abolish the common law distinctions between invitees and licensees since our review made in the case of Little v. Bell, 719 So.2d 757, 762 (Miss.1998). This lack of meaningful change confirms a reversal of "the trend" of states to abandon the distinctions

838 So.2d 200
between invitees and licensees discussed by Professor Keeton in 1984
[The failure of more states to join the "trend" of abolishing the distinctions] may reflect a more fundamental dissatisfaction with certain developments in accident law that accelerated during the 1960's—reduction of whole systems of legal principles to a single, perhaps simplistic, standard of reasonable care, the sometimes blind subordination of other legitimate social objectives to the goals of accident prevention and compensation, and the commensurate shifting of the balance of power to the jury from the judge. At least it appears that the courts are ... acquiring a more healthy skepticism towards invitations to jettison years of developed jurisprudence in favor of beguiling legal panacea.

W.P. Keeton, Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 64 (5th ed.1984).

¶ 8. As of 2001, it appears that the states are at best evenly divided on whether to continue to recognize the common law distinctions.2 However, of those abolishing the distinctions, some states such as Louisiana still look to the traditional status distinctions in deciding cases. See, e.g., Boycher v. Livingston Parish Sch. Bd., 716 So.2d 187, 191 n. 3 (La.App.1998) ("Although the common law classifications of invitee-licensee-trespasser are not determinative of liability, the plaintiff's status has a bearing on the question of liability.")

¶ 9. Since 1982, the following states have expressly rejected the abrogation of the traditional classifications: Alabama (federal court applying Alabama law) (1984); Arkansas (1988); Colorado (1991); Connecticut (1992); Florida (1982); Georgia (1997); Idaho (1987); Indiana (1982); Maryland (1984)3; Michigan (1999); Mississippi

838 So.2d 201
(2000); Missouri (1993); New Jersey (federal court applying New Jersey law) (1999); Ohio (1988); Oklahoma (1985); Oregon (2000); Pennsylvania (1989); Texas (1985); and Washington (1986). See Vitauts M. Gulbis, Annotation, Modern Status of Rules Conditioning Landowner's Liability Upon Status of Injured Party as Invitee, Licensee, or Trespasser, 22 A.L.R.4th 294 (Supp.2001).4

¶ 10. The following states not mentioned in the Annotation have retained the traditional common law distinctions: Arizona (Woodty v. Weston's Lamplighter Motels, 171 Ariz. 265, 830 P.2d 477, 480 (1992) ("In Arizona, the particular duty of care owed by a landowner to an entrant on his or her land is determined by the entrant's status as an invitee, licensee or trespasser."); Delaware (Kovach v. Brandywine Innkeepers Ltd. P'ship, 2000 WL 703343 (Del.Super.Ct.2000) ("In determining a given plaintiff's status, Delaware Courts utilize the classifications set forth in Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965) [: possessors, trespassers, licensees, or invitees]."); South Carolina (Sims v. Giles, 343 S.C. 708, 541 S.E.2d 857, 861 (2001) ("South Carolina recognizes four general classifications of persons who come on premises: adult trespassers, invitees, licensees and children. Different standards of care apply depending [on the status of the entrant]."); South Dakota (Musch v. H-D Elec. Coop., Inc., 460 N.W.2d 149, 151 (S.D.1990) ("South Dakota recognize[s] the traditional common law categories for those who enter onto land and are injured: trespasser, licensee and invitee."); Virginia (Franconia Assocs. v. Clark, 250 Va.444, 463 S.E.2d 670, 672-73 (1995) (Delineating different duties to invitees, licensees and trespassers); and Vermont (Buzzell v. Jones, 151 Vt.4, 556 A.2d 106, 108 (1989) (Delineating different duties to invitees, licensees and trespassers).5

¶ 11. The Little Court agreed with the Missouri Supreme Court's finding that time-honored precedent has served us well in balancing the interests of possessors of land with those who enter thereon:

The contours of the legal relationship that result[ ] from the possessor's invitation reflect a careful and patient effort by courts over time to balance the interests of persons injured by conditions of land against the interests of possessors of land to enjoy and employ their land for the purposes they wish. Moreover, and despite the exceptions courts have developed to the general rules, the maintenance of the distinction between licensee and invitee creates fairly predictable rules within which entrants and possessors can determine appropriate conduct and juries can assess liability. To abandon the careful work of generations for an amorphous "reasonable care under the circumstances" standard seems—to put it kindly—improvident.

Carter v. Kinney, 896 S.W.2d 926, 930 (Mo.1995).

838 So.2d 202
¶ 12. Furthermore, the legislative branch should be addressing this issue rather than the judicial branch. The legislative branch sets public policy and the judicial branch interprets tests the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
8 cases
  • Learmonth v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • March 20, 2013
    ...personal injury remedies is consistent with its power to “set[ ] public policy” in matters of Mississippi tort law. Pinnell v. Bates, 838 So.2d 198, 202 (Miss.2002) (en banc). To be sure, each of the cases Sears has offered is distinguishable in some measure from the case at bar, and we do ......
  • Olier v. Bailey
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • April 9, 2015
  • Learmonth v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 09-60651
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • March 27, 2013
    ...personal injury remedies is consistent with its power to "set[] public policy" in matters of Mississippi tort law. Pinnell v. Bates, 838 So. 2d 198, 202 (Miss. 2002) (en banc). To be sure, each of the cases Sears has offered is distinguishable in some measure from the case at bar, and we do......
  • Evans v. Hodge
    • United States
    • Mississippi Court of Appeals
    • August 19, 2008
    ...a visitor may be considered an invitee if she comes to the home of another not for business, but for the occupant's benefit. Pinnell v. Bates, 838 So.2d 198, 202(¶ 15) (Miss.2002); see also Hall v. Cagle, 773 So.2d 928, 929(¶ 5) (Miss.2000) (stating invitee is a person who goes on premises ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT