Property owners owe a duty of care to guests on their premises. They are required to address any known maintenance or safety issues that could cause injury. They are also expected to address unsafe conditions that they should have known about, regardless of whether or not they actually did. Pokémon Go is a new, and wildly popular, game that may test the boundaries of premises liability law and put some players at risk.
Pokémon has been around in various forms for two decades. It has been the inspiration for trading cards, video games, cartoons and movies. Pokémon Go capitalizes on the broad fan base of the series, while introducing new and potentially problematic elements. Pokémon Go is a walking game, meant to bring players out of their homes and into parks, important landmarks and even neighborhoods. Players walk around the real world attempting to capture various characters. The Pokémon slogan is “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”
In the attempt to catch every available Pokémon, players may feel the need to enter other people’s premises. If a player is injured while playing, it is natural to wonder who is responsible for the resulting injury. Under Florida law, and the laws of most states, property owners are granted immunity from liability for injury to people who trespass on their property. However, a trespasser can become an invited guest if the property owner issues an “express invitation to enter the property” or demonstrates the intent to hold the property open to use for the purpose of the trespasser. In this case, that means that if a property owner manifests an intent to hold the property open for Pokémon seekers, they are not longer immune from premises liability claims.
The rumors of hard to catch Pokémon appearing in specific locations has led to crowds of players descending on a particular area. Pokémon Go has the potential to cause confrontations between property owners and players whose interests are in conflict. Areas that once saw relatively little traffic may find themselves dealing with pedestrians and bicyclists in greater numbers. The influx may not be welcome by all, but in most cases it will be legal. Inconvenience is not a shield to potential liability. If players stay on public thoroughfares and off private property, they are entitled to the same level of care as pedestrians who are not playing the game. If your dog bites someone because it isn’t used to pedestrians, alone or in groups, coming down your street, you may still find yourself liable for injuries. Pokémon Go players who are injured should speak to an attorney who understands premises liability claims.
Source: Philly.com, “Squirtle? Pikachu? Where are youse? Find ’em with new Pokémon Go app,” by Laura McCrystal and Steve Bohnel 12 July 2016