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If Someone Trespasses on My Property and Gets Hurt Am I Liable?

Posted on February 8, 2021 in Premises Liability

Most property owners in California assume they will not have any legal responsibility for trespassers who are on their properties without invitation. If a person gets hurt while trespassing, however, you could be financially responsible, depending on the situation. This is a complicated area of law that may require counsel from a Los Angeles premises liability lawyer.

Do You Owe Duties of Care to Trespassers?

A trespasser is someone who enters or remains on your property without your permission as the property owner or controller. In general, you owe no duties of care to trespassers. Unlike invited guests, you do not have a legal obligation to keep trespassers reasonably safe. Your only duty is not to inflict harm against the trespasser through an intentional act or gross negligence.

Your duties of care, however, can change according to the type of trespasser. The first type is the undiscovered trespasser. This is someone who unlawfully enters your property without you knowing. You have no legal obligation to protect an undiscovered trespasser, but you cannot intentionally inflict harm.

The second type is a discovered trespasser. If you discover a trespasser on your land, you lawfully must warn him or her of risks or dangerous conditions you are aware of if this is reasonably necessary to prevent the trespasser from suffering serious bodily harm. The third type of trespasser – the one to whom you owe the highest duties of care – is the child trespasser.

Minors Are an Important Exception

A minor is a child who is younger than the age of majority according to state law. In California, the age of majority is 18. Should a child under the age of 18 trespass on your property and get hurt, you may be liable for his or her injuries. Underage trespassers are an exception to typical premises liability laws.

Rather than treating minors the same way as adult trespassers, the law treats them as invitees. As a property owner in California, you will owe a trespassing minor the duties of care of searching your property for potential hazards, repairing known defects in a timely manner and posting warning signs of known risks. If you fail to fulfill these duties and a child trespasser gets injured on your property as a result, you will be liable for the incident.

Do You Own an Attractive Nuisance?

An attractive nuisance on your property creates another exception to the trespasser rule. In premises liability law, an attractive nuisance is a risky or dangerous item that is appealing to children and trespassers by nature. Common examples are swimming pools, wells, other bodies of water, farm animals, abandoned structures and broken-down vehicles.

If you have an attractive nuisance on your property, you are responsible for taking steps to ensure its reasonable safety for others – including trespassers. For example, you must obey California’s laws for keeping a swimming pool safe from wandering children and strangers. This includes putting a fence or barrier with a lockable gate around the pool area. If you fail to keep an attractive nuisance reasonably safe, you will be liable for related accidents, injuries and deaths.

Other Exceptions to the Rule

If your willful and wanton conduct injures a trespasser, this is also an exception to the liability rule. In California, property owners must refrain from injuring trespassers through intentional wrongdoing or a wanton disregard for the safety of others. There may be an exception to the exception, however, if you injure the trespasser in self-defense or defense of others.
Another exception to the rule applies to properties with dangerous or aggressive dogs. in California, a dangerous dog is one that inflicted a severe injury or killed a human being, unprovoked. If you own a dog you know is vicious or dangerous, you could be liable for an injury caused by the dog, even to a trespasser. If, however, you took reasonable precautionary measures to prevent a dog attack, you could avoid liability for a trespasser injury.

Premises liability cases involving injuries to a trespasser are extremely complex. Consult with an attorney in Los Angeles for more information.