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Homeowner Liability for Trespasser Injuries

It's late at night, and a robber is staking out your property for a heist. You're in bed early and the car is in the garage, perhaps giving the impression that no one's home. The would-be robber creeps toward the back door, stepping onto the tarp covering a deep hole you were digging for your new hot tub. He falls and breaks his leg.

You didn't mark the area or provide lighting, but you also didn't expect someone to be creeping around your yard late at night. Are you liable for this undiscovered trespasser’s serious injuries?

In this particular premises liability claim, probably not. It might be a different story if you maintained an unsafe property on purpose to trap known trespassers. Homeowners may be held liable for discovered trespassers' injuries on private property.

Premises liability laws vary between states (jurisdictions). Read on to learn more about trespassers, injuries, and your property.

What Is a Trespasser? When Are You Liable for Their Injuries on Your Property?

Unlike a social guest, a trespasser is someone who is not authorized to be on private property. Landowners are not obligated to protect trespassers who enter their property without permission, but they can't willfully injure them either.

If a landowner knows, or should know, that there are frequent trespassers on their property, they may be liable for any injuries caused by an unsafe condition on the property if:

  • The condition is one the owner created or maintained
  • The condition was likely to cause wrongful death or serious bodily harm
  • The condition was such that the owner had reason to believe trespassers would not discover it before becoming injured by it
  • The owner failed to exercise reasonable care to warn trespassers of the condition and the risk presented

Personal injury claims, such as fall accidents, question whether an owner exercised reasonable, ordinary care. In other words, if a homeowner has a duty to an injured party, did they fulfill it by warning them of the danger?

See Property Owners' Legal Duty of Care To Prevent Injury to learn more about premises liability in personal injury lawsuits.

Trespassing Children and Liability for Injuries

A different rule applies when child trespassers are involved. In the case of children who wander onto property without authorization, property owners have a duty to ensure that their property is safe. The logic behind this exception is that children are sometimes naïve to dangers on property.

They could be lured to dangerous conditions such as:

  • An unattended swimming pool
  • An abandoned well
  • Heavy machinery

These potential hazards are referred to as attractive nuisances, since a reasonable person should know that such conditions can attract children.

A property owner has a duty to inspect their property to see if any potentially dangerous conditions might attract children. If so, they must act at once to correct the unsafe condition(s).

A property owner may be liable for an injury to a trespassing child if they knew, or should have known:

  • Young children were likely to trespass in the area of a dangerous condition on the property that involved an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to children
  • Young children would not be aware of the risk
  • The utility of the condition is small compared to the risk it represents

Have Questions About Homeowner Liability? Get a Free Legal Evaluation Today

It’s important to maintain a safe property, but homeowners can't be expected to prevent every personal injury that could occur on their premises.

You may want to consult with a personal injury or premises liability attorney. They can give you legal advice if you're being sued by an injured trespasser. Personal injury attorneys can also help you avoid any future legal problems. Consider entering into a client relationship with an experienced personal injury lawyer if you have a premises liability case.

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