Key point 7-20.01 In most states, whether a church is liable for injuries occurring on its premises will depend on the whether the victim is an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. Churches, like any property owner, owe the highest degree of care to invitees, a lesser degree of care to licensees, and a very minimal degree of care to trespassers. As a result, it is more likely that churches will be liable for injuries to persons who meet the definition of an "invitee."
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that nonmembers who visit churches for noncommercial reasons are "licensees" to whom churches owe a minimal duty of care making it less likely that churches will be liable for injuries occurring to such persons while on church premises. A woman ("Paula") was injured when she tripped over a concrete tire stop in a church's parking lot. She was visiting the church to attend a Bible study. Paula sued the church, alleging that it negligently placed the tire stops and failed to provide adequate lighting in the parking lot. A jury ruled in favor of the church on the ground that Paula was a "licensee" rather than an "invitee" and therefore the church owed her a minimal duty of care. The state supreme court accepted an appeal of the case "to determine the proper standard of care owed to individuals on church property for noncommercial purposes." The court began its opinion by noting that Michigan, like most states, recognizes three categories for persons who enter upon the land or premises of another: (1) trespasser, (2) licensee, or (3) invitee. Each of these categories corresponds to a different standard of care that is owed to those injured on the owner's premises. As a result, a landowner's duty to a visitor depends on that visitor's status. The court provided the following summary of the duty owed by a landowner to each category of visitor: