Liability for Accidents to Trespassers

Posted on: June 2nd, 2016 by James Haug

In general, a person owes a duty of reasonable care to all foreseeable plaintiffs and a Defendant’s failure to act reasonably may result in tort liability if his unreasonable conduct causes a Plaintiff injury. However, if a plaintiff is injured while on the land of another, a different standard of care may apply. Interestingly enough, landowners might be liable for injuries to trespassers on their land, even though the trespasser did not have permission to be on the land. The key is to determine what standard of care a landowner owes to the trespasser.

If the trespasser is unknown to the landowner, the landowner does not owe a duty to him. However, if the trespasser is known to the landowner, in other words, the landowner becomes aware that the trespasser is present, the landowner must exercise reasonable care to prevent the trespasser from being injured by activities conducted on the land. The landowner also must warn the known trespasser of hidden dangers of which the landowner is aware and the trespasser is unaware, but has no no duty to prevent injury that could be caused by a natural condition on the land.

If the landowner knows or should reasonably know that others often trespass on his land, the duty he owes is similar to that owed to known trespassers. Finally, if children are trespassing, the landowner will owe a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent children from being injured by artificial conditions on the land. This heightened standard only applies if 1) The artificial condition creates a foreseeable risk of unreasonable danger, 2) it is foreseeable that children are likely to trespass, 3) the child is not aware of the danger, and 4)  the risk of danger outweighs the utility of the artificial condition.