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Am I liable for a trespasser's injuries?

You are probably familiar with the holiday movie about the child whose family leaves him behind when they go on vacation, and he fends off burglars with homemade weapons and booby traps. While the movie may make for delightful viewing, in reality, the tricks the child plays on the would-be robbers could likely kill them. Still, as you watch the movie, you may feel the boy has justification.

While you may not have a problem with bumbling bandits breaking into your house, you might have the occasional trespasser on your property. Perhaps your yard is a perfect shortcut for kids walking home from school, or you live in a Louisiana neighborhood where people don't respect property lines. In any case, if a trespasser becomes injured on your property, how liable are you for their injuries?

When is it my responsibility?

The law protects visitors to your property if they suffer injuries due to a hazardous condition that you knew about and didn't take care of. If a guest trips on your uneven sidewalk, tumbles down your broken staircase or ends up bitten by your vicious dog, you or your insurance company may be responsible for covering those medical bills. However, if an uninvited trespasser is injured, you may also be liable if these factors exist:

  • You knew that trespassers were likely to enter your property.
  • You intentionally created the hazard or allowed it to remain.
  • You knew the hazard was dangerous enough to injure or kill someone.
  • The hazard was not obvious to trespassers until it was too late for them to avoid it.
  • You did not take reasonable steps to warn potential trespassers of the danger.

Because of these elements of premises liability law, you will want to think long and hard before setting up your own booby traps and snares to teach a lesson to those who come onto your property unlawfully. However, if a trespasser trips over one of your child's toys or stumbles in the dark over a lawn ornament, you will probably be safe from liability.

When trespassers are children

The exception to the rule involves children and attractive nuisances. If you are aware that a hazard on your property may attract the curiosity of children and endanger them, you have a duty to correct that hazard. For example, if your swimming pool does not have a fence, your dog is prone to biting or you have an abandoned well on your property, you would do well to secure these potential hazards since they may lure children who would otherwise be unaware of the risk or the boundaries.

While you may have no intention of setting deadly traps for your trespassers, you may want to take a close look at your property and mitigate any hazards that may lead to future legal issues.

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