People often assume that trespassers have no grounds in a personal injury claim. They entered a space where they didn’t belong, and anything that happened to them was their fault. This is false.
We’ve all heard urban legends of a burglar who breaks into a home and sues after hurting themselves committing a felony. Many of these stories are overblown, but there is a nugget of truth to them. It may be hard to accept, but even trespassers have a reasonable expectation of safety.
Furthermore, the law extends extra protections to children. If a child wanders onto a property and hurts themselves, the owner could be guilty of breaking the attractive nuisance doctrine.
A Trespasser’s Reasonable Expectation of Safety
Homes and businesses are not generally responsible for the safety of trespassers. Let’s say you are running late for work, and in the confusion, you drop a glass in the kitchen. Having no time to clean it, you leave it there, planning to deal with it when you return. In your absence, someone breaks into your hope. As they snoop around, they cut themselves on the shattered glass. In a situation like this, the trespasser has poor grounds for a lawsuit. No one was supposed to be in that kitchen until you got back from work, and you can easily argue that you were not responsible for those injuries.
The same is true for dangers to which you’ve grown accustomed. Say you have a faulty step on the staircase, and you’ve gotten used to avoiding it. Maybe you have some exposed wires that you’re planning to fix, so you know to stay away from that area. A burglar who falls through the stairs or electrocutes themselves would have a difficult time blaming you.
You cannot, however, intentionally leave traps to harm trespassers. Anyone who breaks into your space is taking a risk, but they shouldn’t expect a dangling anvil positioned to drop on unsuspecting burglars. Booby traps go beyond the “reasonable expectation of safety.”
This is why “beware of dog” or “caution: bear traps” signs exist. The property owner isn’t protecting trespassers, they’re protecting themselves. If you have unexpected dangers on your land, you must leave clear, visible warnings. This way, if a burglar does hurt themselves, you can claim they assumed the risk when they entered your property.
Children and the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
Most states follow this rule to protect kids. Children are naturally curious, and any parent knows that kids are always looking for fun. Furthermore, children are underdeveloped. They are not always capable of considering the consequences of their actions.
If there is something dangerous on your property, and a child hurts themselves on it, you could be held responsible. Imagine anything that looks like fun to a kid, but adults know it can be deadly. An empty refrigerator, a swimming pool, or an open box of sharp tools could lure a child onto your land. The item is “attractive” to them, and its dangers are a “nuisance.”
Avoiding liability via attractive nuisance is not a hard science. You must simply use your common sense. Overlook your yard, parking lot, or any area that’s in the open. If you see something that could tempt a child onto your land, remove it. Even if the item isn’t inherently dangerous, a child could somehow hurt themselves, and you could be held responsible.
For items you can’t store, like a trampoline or swimming pool, you must install barriers to the outside world. These barriers must be secure, no holes or easy entry allowed. If a child can sneak through your fence, you can still be held liable. A crafty lawyer could even use attractive nuisance for a teen, so your safest bet is using locks.
We are a personal injury firm committed to seeking justice for negligent behavior. If you or your child were harmed on someone else’s property, call us at (607) 228-8404, and tell us your story. You may be entitled to compensation. You can also reach us through our online contact form.