Accident Lawyer Advisory: Injured Trespassers May Be Able to Sue
A trespasser comes to see an accident lawyer. He was on someone else’s property. He had no right to be on the premises. But he tripped on something. He was badly injured. Now he wants to sue the property owner for damages. Can he?
You might think that there is no question. The accident lawyer should tell the trespasser simply that he shouldn’t have trespassed. And that he can’t sue.
However crazy it may seem, the law in New Jersey says something different. Generally, a property owner owes a duty to a trespasser to just not do anything to willfully injure the trespasser. However, if there is some dangerous condition on the property, and it is foreseeable that the danger might injure someone, a trespasser injured by that danger may be able to sue. A crucial factor would be how foreseeable the risk was.
If the trespasser is a child, the property owner has even more responsibility. A property owner more often will have to pay compensation to an injured child trespasser. However, the child trespasser would have to prove five things. First, that the owner had reason to know that there were children trespassing on his property. Second, that the owner had reason to know that there was a dangerous condition on the property, creating a serious risk of harm. Third, that the children didn’t know about the danger, or, because of their youth, couldn’t appreciate the risk. Fourth, that, compared to the risk, it would have been easy for the owner to fix the danger. Fifth, that the owner failed to fix the danger.
If you are a property owner, you can still minimize the risk you will be sued. One of the easiest ways is by not allowing people to trespass on your property. As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. If you let people trespass, there is a greater risk you will be sued. First, it will be more likely that someone will get hurt. Second, it will be more likely that a court will say you should have been more careful because you knew people were coming on to your property. Good fences make less lawsuits.
For any trespassers out there: I don’t encourage trespassing. It can be a criminal offense. But if you did trespass, and were injured, you still should consult an accident lawyer. You may have a right to receive compensation for your injuries.
You can read the actual jury instructions that New Jersey judges give to juries respecting injured trespassers here.