If someone enters a property without permission, can they file a lawsuit if they are hurt? The answer, surprisingly, is yes.
A trespasser is someone who enters a property illegally. Even though they have no right to be there, they still have a reasonable expectation of safety. In theory, a trespasser who accidentally hurt themselves on an exposed hazard could sue the owner for negligence. Though possible, this scenario is unlikely and uncommon.
Trespassers cannot be intentionally harmed by unseen traps. Legally, trespassers are protected from hazards left on a property. Landowners have every right to set up defenses against invaders, but they must provide clear warnings of these defenses. For example, a landowner with bear traps in the yard needs a “Caution Beartraps” or similar signage. Without these warnings, the owner could be held liable for the trespasser’s injuries.
Another way trespassers could sue for their injuries is through the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. This legal precedent is designed to protect children. Landowners must be aware of what is exposed on their property and what may attract children. For example, young kids can see an empty refrigerator and want to play inside.
The philosophy behind this law is that young children don’t have the capacity to recognize the dangers of certain items. They may see something and be drawn to it, not considering the potential consequences of their actions. Argued well, attractive nuisance can be used for older kids or even teens. A reasonable case could be made that even though the older kids know they shouldn’t be on the property, the dangerous item was too alluring to ignore.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for what is or isn’t an attractive nuisance. The courts will determine what is a commonsense attraction. Essentially, property owners need to look over their land and ask, “Is there anything here that a kid may want to play with?” They should think like a child. If they have a swimming pool, abandoned car, construction machines, a trampoline, etc., they could have an attractive nuisance.
If an attractive nuisance is present, the owner needs to remove that item or bar it from the public. They should install fences or barriers. The best defense against an attractive nuisance is a high fence or a wooden one where outsiders cannot see what’s in the yard. Fencing and barriers need to be secure. If there is a hole in the fence, or if it can be easily surmounted, the property owner could still be held liable when a child is hurt on their property.
If you’ve been hurt on someone else’s property, reach out to our office. It is possible to review your case and determine that the owner’s negligence resulted in your injuries. You can call us at (817) 591-4222 or contact us online.