Can Trespassers Sue Property Owners for Their Injuries?
There are many misconceptions about the law that occasionally capture the public’s imagination. One of the most well-known is the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case, in which the plaintiff was wrongly convicted in the court of public opinion for over-litigiousness. Another is the recurring story of the burglar who sues a property owner for injuries sustained after falling through a skylight. But the latter story carries a kernel of truth. While property owners generally are not liable to trespassers for injuries sustained on their property, there are exceptions to every rule. A Tifton slip and fall attorney explains in more detail below.
Three Types of Visitors and The Duties Owed to Them
The law governing the relationships between property owners and visitors is known as premises liability. This is the law that a plaintiff would invoke when seeking recovery for injuries sustained in a slip and fall accident, for example. Under premises liability law, property owners owe all visitors to their property a certain duty of care to prevent injuries. But exactly which duty they owe depends upon the legal status of the visitor. Georgia law recognizes three types of property visitors:
- Invitees: Individuals the owner invites onto the property as a member of the public or for business purposes (e.g., retail customers)
- Licensees: Individuals the owner allows to be on the property for their own purposes (e.g., social guests)
- Trespassers: Individuals who enter the property without the permission of the owner (e.g., burglars)
Property owners owe invitees the highest duty of care, which requires them to take reasonable care to prevent injuries. Licensees are owed a lower duty of care, generally requiring the owner to avoid exposing the licensee to unknown risks. To trespassers, owners generally owe no duty other than to refrain from intentionally or wantonly causing injury to them.
Exceptions to the General Rule Against Liability to Trespassers
As with almost all legal principles, there are exceptions to the general rule that property owners owe trespassers no duty of care.
Property owners may be liable to trespassers for causing a willful or wanton injury. This could occur, for example, when a property owner sets booby traps to ensnare potential trespassers. It could also occur when a property owner shoots a trespasser without a reasonable belief that harm is imminent and that such force is necessary to defend himself.
The general rule against liability to trespassers is aimed at adults. Another exception exists for injured children known as the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. This exception applies where the property owner creates a hazard on his or her property that is likely to attract young children who, due to their age, do not appreciate the risk posed by the hazard. This could include swimming pools, tree houses, and trampolines, among others. However, Georgia courts use a strict five-part test to determine liability under this doctrine, making it a difficult exception to prove.
A Tifton Slip and Fall Attorney Can Help You Recover After an Accident on Someone Else’s Property
If you were injured in an accident on someone else’s property, you may be able to recover if the accident was due to the property owner’s negligence. For more information, please contact a Tifton slip and fall attorney at the Hudson Injury Firm by calling 229-396-5848 or using our online form.