When someone slips and falls on your property, the law usually goes by “premises liability.” However, in cases involving trespassing, things can quickly get complex. Although it’s rare that a trespasser who gets hurt on another’s property can recover for their injuries, there are exceptions. If you are a property owner, knowing what those exceptions are is imperative so that you don’t leave yourself vulnerable.
The general rule is that if someone is on your property and they do not have permission to be there, then you hold no responsibility if they are hurt. The exceptions are:
- If you have acted either aggressively or violently toward them and those actions end in their injury.
- If you have been egregiously negligent and expected that trespassers might enter your property, and have done nothing to make sure that conditions are safe. An example would be if you knew that there was a serious hazard on a property you owned and that someone could easily gain access, but you didn’t put up signs to warn anyone who came onto your property. Not alerting people that your property is highly dangerous means that you could be found liable for their injuries.
If you are chasing an intruder from your property, that does not make you liable for any injuries they sustain. Also, if you use a “reasonable” amount of force to get them off your property, then you likewise won’t be found liable for any injuries. If you use deadly force, however, or you use the threat of bodily harm, then that might be grounds for liability.
Special cases - like undocumented immigrants who trespass and are injured
In states like Texas where there is a large undocumented immigration population, trespassing is very common. In 2014, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of property owners when it came to liability when their properties were trespassed on by immigrants who got hurt. The specific case involved three undocumented immigrants who were trying to escape border control; they trespassed onto someone’s property and were killed.
The court ruled that the property owner was not liable for the trespassers’ deaths if the deaths were self-inflicted. Also, since the trespassers were engaging in illegal activities at the time, they forfeited their rights. Committing criminal acts, like smuggling drugs, meant that they gave up any rights they had, and the property owner could not be held liable for their deaths.
Do you need to put up a no-trespassing sign?
If you own property where hazards may or may not exist it is always a good idea to post a no- trespassing sign to warn individuals that they can be hurt if they come onto your property. That way people understand that it is private property and that if they pass over the boundaries, they are trespassing onto your private land. In some instances, you can protect yourself from premises liability simply because you gave written or verbal warning not to be on your property.
If you don’t have a fence around your property, then it’s a good idea to post signs to set boundaries. If it is a normal traveling route, then marking it, either through posting signs or putting marking on trees, will indicate to those who are crossing over onto private property that they do not have consent and are trespassing. If you have any specific hazards on the property then, yes, it is always a good idea to put up warning signs to protect yourself and to limit your liability.
If someone is injured while on your property, your liability will be determined by the specifics related to their injuries. One factor that will greatly affect if you are liable for a person’s slip and fall injury is whether or not you gave consent for them to be on your property.
Even if they were trespassing and didn’t have your permission, there is still a chance that you might be held liable for their injuries, which is why you want to have a slip and fall lawyers in your corner to ensure that you know what your rights and responsibilities are as a property owner.