Christmas movies can do a lot for you. Give you and your family something to do. Bring a little bit of joy in the season. They become a part of our shared family & cultural traditions. But can they spark legitimate legal discussion? You bet your stocking they can! Here are three tort law lessons gleaned from some of your holiday favorites.
The first step in determining whether Mr. Calvin is liable to Santa Claus is to determine how Santa was classified, was he an invitee, licensee, or trespasser? An invitee is a person who a property owner invited to enter the property, such as a house guest. A licensee is a person who is on the property for his or her own purposes when the owner of the property either permits that person to enter the property, or does not object, for example a utility company worker. A trespasser is a person who is on the homeowner’s property without permission, such as a burglar.
In the case of Santa Claus, this is a little tricky. It could be argued that Santa is all three. Everyone knows that Santa comes on Christmas, and he is encouraged to deliver gifts to all of the good little girls and boys, especially when a family has children, Santa would argue that he was invited to the house for Charlie. Scott Calvin would probably argue that Santa is a trespasser. Scott never invited Santa onto his property and really didn’t even believe in his existence.
The reason Scott Calvin would argue Santa was a trespasser is because a trespasser is owed almost no duty by the homeowner. Trespassers enter another person’s property at their own risk of injury from conditions on the property (i.e. the slippery roof). An owner of property has no responsibility for a trespasser’s safety until the owner knows that the trespasser is present. In this case, Scott didn’t know that Santa was there until Charlie woke him and Scott ran outside. He did not have time to warn Santa of the slippery roof.
Santa on the other hand will argue he is an invitee because a homeowner owes a higher duty to an invitee. An owner of a property is liable for injury caused to an invitee by the property’s condition only if the owner: (1) knew that the condition existed and realized that it created an unreasonable danger to an invitee, or should have discovered the condition and its danger; (2) should have expected that the invitee would not discover or realize the danger of the condition, or would fail to protect himself against; and (3) failed to use reasonable care to protect the invitee against the danger.
Regardless of whether Santa is considered an invitee or trespasser, Santa will lose this battle. It would be difficult for Mr. Claus to argue that he didn’t realize a snow-covered roof posed a danger and that Scott should have warned him that the snow-covered roof was slick.
The Court finds in favor Scott Calvin.