Postman a Licensee Comparable to a Social Invitee

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July 30, 2009

July 30, 2009

The specific issue of whether a letter carrier is a licensee or an invitee has not been decided directly by any Connecticut appellate authority. Connecticut's Supreme Court has noted, however, that "a letter carrier has been generally considered to be a business visitor rather than a mere licensee." Haffey v. Lemieux,[1]; see Conn. Gen. Stat § 52-557a (business visitor owed same duty as social invitee). The Haffey court, however, without deciding the issue directly, left undisturbed the trial court's treatment of a letter carrier as a licensee for the purpose of that appeal.[2]

In Haffey, the letter carrier was descending the left side of the steps of the front porch at the husband and wife's house when they collapsed and caused him to fall, suffering injuries. The right side of the steps was visibly deteriorated. The letter carrier filed the action for damages and the trial court entered judgment against the husband. On appeal, the court affirmed. For purposes of the appeal, the court treated the letter carrier as a licensee rather than as a business visitor. The court found that the basic test of negligence was the reasonable foreseeability of the harm. The court found that the place of injury was within the area of the license because the letter carrier used the license with reasonable regularity at about the same time of day. The court found that, although a landowner would normally owe no duty to a licensee, when the presence of the licensee, like the letter carrier, was anticipated, it was regarded as if the husband had actual knowledge of the letter carrier's presence. The court found that there was sufficient evidence that the husband used the steps for the jury to conclude that he knew of their deterioration and that he had a duty to warn the letter carrier.

A visitor's status turns largely on whether the visitor has received an invitation, as opposed to permission, from the possessor of land, to enter the land or remain on the land.[3] It can be argued that a letter carrier receives permission for the sole limited purpose of delivering the mail. In this way, a letter carrier is more akin to a person permitted on the premises, rather than a person invited onto the premises. The distinction between permission and invitation is discussed in Comment b to Restatement (Second) Torts § 532: "An invitation differs from mere permission in this: an invitation is conduct which justifies others in believing that the possessor desires them to enter the land; permission is conduct justifying others in believing that the possessor is willing that they shall enter if they desire to do so." Connecticut law has long recognized that "an invitation is implied where one person goes upon the land of another for their mutual benefit."[4] Thus, while it is true that a letter carrier is "permitted" on a property owner's land, this permission is premised at least in part on the property owner's own benefit, i.e., receiving mail at the owner's property.

In Gatzki v. Shafer,[5] the plaintiff letter carrier filed a complaint alleging negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the defendant property owner and seeking damages for injuries he sustained when he was tripped by a downed power line. The owner moved for summary judgment. The owner argued that the letter carrier was a licensee to whom was owed a reduced duty of care. The trial court held that while a letter carrier was permitted on a property owner's land, the permission was premised at least in part on the owner's benefit of receiving mail. The owner could choose other modes to receive mail delivery and the letter carrier was an invitee for purposes of determining the owner's duty of care. While the owner averred that he lacked knowledge of the downed power line until he was informed of the letter carrier's injury, that did not dispose of whether he had reasonably inspected and maintained the premises in order to render it reasonably safe. There were also disputed issues as to whether the downed power line was an open and obvious condition. The owner's affidavit failed to shed light on the precise conditions on the owner's premises at the time of the letter carrier's injury and left room for reasonable disagreement as to whether the letter carrier was or should have been aware of the condition just before his injury. Thus, genuine issues of material fact remained.

[1] 154 Conn. 185, 188 (1966).

[2] But see 21 ALR.3d 1099, 1101 (1968) (In most of the few cases which have presented this problem, the courts have held or assumed that the postman enjoyed invitee status, rejecting the analogy sometimes advanced between the postman and the policeman or fireman who comes on the premises in the line of duty in emergency situations.)

[3] Kurti v. Becker, 54 Conn. App. 335, 338 (1999).

[4] Guilford v. Yale University, 128 Conn. 449, 452 (1942) (Emphasis added.); Reardon v. Shimelman, 102 Conn. 383, 386 (1925). See also Pomponio v. New York N.H. & H.R. Co., 66 Conn. 528, 537 (1895 ) ("Speaking generally, if the privilege of user exists for the common interest or mutual advantage of both parties, it will be held to be a case of invitation; but if it exists for the mere pleasure and benefit of the party exercising the privilege, it will be held to be a case of license.")

[5] 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS.