In some cases, a property owner may be liable for a trespasser’s slip and fall accident and injury. In ordinary personal injury cases, it is understood that a property owner has a duty to warn others of hazards on their property or they can be held liable for injuries. Generally, if someone is not legally on a property and gets injured, they cannot claim the owner is liable for damages. However, there are some important exceptions to this rule.
In slip and fall cases, it is important to examine the relationship between the property owner and the injured party. There are three types of people who may enter another person’s premises:
- An invitee is someone who enters to conduct business.
- A licensee is someone who enters with permission but for some other purpose besides business.
- A trespasser is someone who enters without express or implied permission.
The issue of whether a property owner had a responsibility to someone on their property depends on the circumstances. Common law treats premises liability cases on sliding scale, with owners of the premises owing the highest duty to an invitee, a lesser duty to a licensee, and the lowest duty to a trespasser. Property owners owe a trespasser no specific duty except to not expose them to intentional harm. Failing to satisfy the duty owed is considered a form of negligence. This approach is followed by most states.
Responsibilities of the Property Owner
While property owners cannot be expected to anticipate most trespassers. As a result, they owe no duty to warn trespassers about hazards on their site. Sometimes, a property owner becomes aware of people or a person who trespasses on certain property with some regularity. Over time, this situation can lead to a point where the property owner can expect continuous trespassers.
The regularity of the trespassers creates an exception to the general rule. This means the property owner can anticipate that dangerous conditions on their property could pose safety hazards, and they have a duty then to warn or mitigate the hazard. An example would be if a property owner has trees on the property and has seen children climbing them. If one of the children climbs on a rotten branch of the tree and it breaks, the owner can be held liable for injuries unless they posted warning signs and/or pruned the tree.
Another exception to the general rule is willful and wanton conduct. For example, if a property owner knows that people walk across their property to access parkland, the owner cannot intentionally set a trap, such as a concealed hole, to catch and deter trespassers. This is exposing the trespasser to intentional harm. Simply posting Do Not Trespass signs may be insufficient to guard against an owner being found liable if they recklessly target trespassers.
What Proof is Required to Find Liability?
Some evidence that shows the property owner is responsible for an injury includes:
- The defendant was in control of or owned the property when the injury occurred.
- The defendant was negligent in the use of their property or violated a duty owed to the plaintiff.
- The plaintiff was injured.
- The defendant’s negligence caused the injury.
In trespass cases, the additional proof required is to show an exception to the general rule, which can be either that the defendant expected continued trespass and did not address the hazard, or the defendant exposed the plaintiff to intentional harm.
What Damages can an Injured Trespasser Recover?
If the burden of proof is met and a trespasser prevails in their case, then they will be entitled to the same forms of compensation as any other injured party. Compensation might be able to cover the following:
- Medical bills to recover from the injury, which may include hospital bills, doctor bills, costs of rehabilitation, medicine, and other medical-related costs.
- Lost wages to compensate for days away from work resulting from the injury.
- Pain and suffering if the injuries are particularly severe.
How Should I Proceed?
Proving liability in any negligence case requires a substantial amount of proof. If you have been injured on someone else’s property, it is a good idea to be represented by an experienced lawyer. A lawyer can help ensure the best outcome by using their knowledge and experience to do the following:
- Gather evidence to back up the claim, including obtaining witness statements.
- Calculate a fair and accurate amount of damages for the personal injury claim.
- Negotiate with the defendant’s insurer.
To maximize the chance of prevailing in a case against the property owner, it is important to have a clear recollection of what happened and good documentation of the conditions at the property, the extent of the injuries, and the medical expenses from treatment. Be sure to keep good records, and take notes to remember important information.
Pursuing a slip and fall case can be more difficult to prove than some other personal injury cases. However, if you trespassed and were injured and the property owner meets one of the exceptions to the general rule, then you may have a case.
Our Mt. Laurel Slip and Fall Injury Lawyers Help Clients Build Strong Cases Against Negligent Property Owners
While it may be challenging to prove a case of negligence against a property owner when you have trespassed, it is possible. Our slip and fall injury attorneys in Mt. Laurel can advise on the best path forward. Complete our online form or call us at 856-751-2345 to set up a free consultation. Located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.