Have you ever heard the rumor about a burglar getting injured while breaking into someone’s home or business, and then suing for their injuries? How likely is this situation? Could it ever happen? Would they ever win?

The short answer: no. They could try, but they wouldn’t get far.

How Are Trespassers Defined?

In most circumstances, property owners are required to protect visitors on their properties, whether those are guests at their homes or customers at their businesses. This means actively identifying any potential hazards and either removing the hazards or sufficiently warning visitors about them if they can’t be removed.

This legal duty to protect visitors from hazards doesn’t apply to trespassers.

Louisiana defines a trespasser as someone who enters onto “any structure, watercraft, or movable owned by another without express, legal, or implied authorization.”

Express authorization means permission given verbally or in writing. Implied authorization means you weren’t given express permission, but you have good reason to believe that you have permission. For example, if a friend or family member gave you their spare key, that would be considered implied permission to enter their home.

You may also be able to make a case for implied permission if you’ve trespassed before with the property owner’s knowledge and without the property owner taking any action. An example of this might be if a landowner knows that community members tend to cut through their property as a shortcut but doesn’t put up a fence or signs to stop it.

In terms of rental properties, you need to obtain the renter’s permission to enter the property. If the visitor has the renter’s permission but not the landlord’s, they are still on the property legally. If the visitor has the landlord’s permission but not the renter’s, they are trespassing.

Are There Exceptions to the Rule?

There are three main exceptions to the general rule that trespassers cannot sue for injuries. 

1. Failure to Warn

Property owners and renters still have a responsibility to warn potential trespassers of hazards if they know there is a high probability their home or business will be broken into. Think of a “Beware of Dog” sign as an example of this. If a homeowner in Louisiana knows that their dog will attack anyone that enters the property, they could potentially be held liable if their dog attacks a trespasser if they didn’t post warning signs.

2. Intentional Injuries

Trespassers can’t sue you for injuries they incur from accidents, such as slipping and falling on your property. However, if you injure the trespasser intentionally, such as by setting out booby traps like in Home Alone, then you won’t be protected by the law.

For example, have you ever seen a sign saying, “Private Property: Trespassers Will Be Shot”? Posting this sign is not a legal defense for shooting someone. Even Louisiana’s Stand Your Ground laws say you have to believe your life is in danger before acting in a violent manner. Someone simply entering your property isn’t enough.

3. Child Trespassers

Most states, including Louisiana, have something called Attractive Nuisance laws. These laws say that children are not capable of recognizing danger and can be expected to trespass to get to something that is attractive to them, such as swimming pools and trampolines.

Other examples of property that may qualify as Attractive Nuisances are playgrounds, treehouses, dangerous animals, and construction sites. If it looks like it could be a fun place to play, consider it an attractive nuisance.

This means that property owners have a legal duty to take extra precautions to keep children out and safe from the dangerous condition on their property. Installing a fence with a locked gate that can’t be easily opened or climbed by children is a good example of how to protect yourself from liability in this type of trespassing case.

What Happens If a Trespassers Tries to Sue Anyway?

As mentioned earlier, when trespassers are injured on your property, they can try to sue, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get anywhere. These cases tend to be thrown out by judges.

However, if one of the three above circumstances applies to the trespasser’s case, it may be time to speak to a lawyer.

Generally, when a guest is injured on your property, the liability coverage from your homeowner’s/renter’s insurance will apply and cover the costs of their medical bills and other damages. However, not all homeowner’s/renter’s insurance will cover injuries suffered by trespassers. Make sure to read your coverage policy language carefully.

What’s Needed for a Premises Liability Compensation Claim?

To successfully file a lawsuit after being hurt on someone else’s property, an injured person will need to prove the following:

  • They were injured by a dangerous condition on the property.
  • They were on the property legally (excluding the exceptions discussed above).
  • The property owner knew about the dangerous condition, or at least should have known (for example, after a strong storm, it’s reasonable to assume there may be downed tree limbs or power lines).
  • The property owner didn’t do anything to remove the danger after learning about it or didn’t take steps quickly enough to prevent someone from being injured.

Whenever someone is injured on someone else’s property, whether they were on the property legally or illegally, it is important to call the police to file an incident report.

At Dudley DeBosier, Your Case Consultation Is Free

Many injury victims hesitate to get legal representation because they are afraid they can’t afford it, especially when they may already be going into debt over their injury-related expenses. At Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers, we never charge for initial consultations, and even after hiring our team, you pay us nothing unless we win. Contact us today to talk about your case.

Originally published July 6, 2020.

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