Could a Property Owner Be Responsible for a Trespasser’s Injuries?

Understanding Premises Liability Law

The legal term “premises liability” refers to a property owner’s responsibility toward individuals who enter their property. Essentially, property owners must ensure their premises are reasonably safe for visitors.

The extent of this duty varies based on the visitor's status. Legally, visitors can be classified as invitees, licensees, or trespassers. Invitees and licensees are allowed to be on the property, but trespassers are not. However, property owners still have some legal obligation to protect a trespasser’s safety.

Trespasser Rights

A trespasser, by definition, is someone who enters or remains on a property without permission or legal right. Traditionally, property owners owe the least duty of care to trespassers. “Duty of care” is the legal term for your level of responsibility toward another’s safety.

Ultimately, trespassers still have a certain right to safety.

Here are some scenarios that can make a property owner liable for a trespasser’s injuries.

The Property is Unsafe

In the event of a trespasser injury, the law examines the circumstances that led to the harm. It wants to know whether the property contained any hazards that the owner knew about or should have known about. Such hazards include hidden perils that could foreseeably cause harm.

To put it more simply: Your property cannot contain hidden traps that would harm a trespasser. You are allowed to have bear traps, a guard dog, or other safety measures, but you must display clear warning signs. This way, trespassers can make an informed decision on whether they want to take the risk of entering your property.

The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

This legal concept recognizes that children are often unable to assess danger the way adults can. Consequently, property owners can be held liable for injuries children sustain on their land. If an attractive hazard, such as an unsecured swimming pool or trampoline, entices a little one onto your land, you could be held responsible if they hurt themselves.

Because of the attractive nuisance doctrine, you must take reasonable steps to secure your land and keep kids out. Essentially, look over your property and ask yourself, “Is there anything here that a child might want to play with?” Anything from an empty refrigerator to an old car could cause a problem.

To avoid attractive nuisance liability, make sure you have barriers, and make sure they are strong. Erecting a flimsy fence could still put you at legal risk. Children might be able to maneuver through such a barrier.

A Trespasser's Injury Claim

When a trespasser is injured and wants to file a claim, they must prove that the property owner's negligence directly resulted in their harm. Doing so often requires a deep dive into the specifics of the incident. They must show that the property owner had a duty of care, and the owner either neglected that care or created an intentionally dangerous environment.

Potential Consequences for a Trespasser’s Injury Claim

Immediately, property owners may be forced to pay a settlement or judgment. Generally, this sum covers the alleged victim’s medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.

There may also be long-term implications. Losing a premises liability claim can increase a property owner’s insurance premiums. These premiums may skyrocket. Furthermore, insurance companies can cancel you as a customer, particularly if the incident reveals a pattern of negligence.

A liability ruling can also affect the perceived value of a property. It can also put a property owner under increased scrutiny, limiting their ability to exercise certain property rights.

Depending on the circumstances, the property owner may suffer damage to their reputation, too. This problem can be particularly serious for business owners.

Defenses Against Trespasser Injury Claims

Property owners have options when facing a trespasser’s premises liability claim.

A strong defense may include:

  • Proving you took reasonable steps to warn of potential hazards
  • Claiming you had no prior knowledge of the dangerous condition
  • Proving the trespasser's own negligence contributed to their injury
  • Demonstrating that you maintained the property with reasonable care

Palmer Rodak & Associates is here to help with premises liability and other personal injury claims. You can consult with us for free, so contact us online or call us at (760) 573-2223 today.