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What to Know About Trespassing and Liability in California

Category: Personal Injury Slip/Trip/Fall Accidents

Property owners in California are generally not required to ensure the safety of trespassers, but they may still be liable for injuries suffered by a trespasser under certain circumstances.

What is a Trespasser?

Under California Penal Code 602, a trespasser is a person who enters someone else’s property without permission or a legal right to do so. Trespassers are not authorized to be on the property and are not owed the same level of care as invitees or licensees.

Invitees are people who visit a property with the owner’s express or implied permission for the mutual benefit of both parties. For example, customers in a store or restaurant are considered invitees.

Licensees are people who enter a property with the owner’s express or implied permission, but not for the mutual benefit of both parties. For example, social guests or door-to-door salespeople are considered licensees. Property owners owe the highest level of care to invitees, a slightly lower level of care to licensees, and a minimal duty of care to trespassers.

When Can a Property Owner be Liable for a Trespasser’s Injuries?

Here are some situations in which property owners may be liable for trespassers’ injuries in California:

Attractive Nuisance

Property owners can be liable for injuries suffered by child trespassers if the property contains an “attractive nuisance.” An attractive nuisance is something on the property that may attract children, such as a swimming pool, and presents a danger of serious injury or death. In these situations, property owners are required to take extra precautions to prevent access to the attractive nuisance, such as fencing or covering the pool, to prevent injury to children that may trespass.

Willful or Intentional Harm

Property owners may be liable for injuries suffered by trespassers if the property owner intentionally causes them harm. For example, if a property owner sets a trap to injure a trespasser, uses excessive force against the trespasser, such as by using a weapon or physical violence, or knowingly exposes a trespasser to dangerous conditions or hazards, such as toxic chemicals or high voltage electrical wires.

Failure to Warn of Known Dangers

Property owners can begin to expect continued trespassing when people trespass on certain land with some regularity. In this type of situation, the property owner can anticipate that dangerous conditions could pose safety hazards to people who trespass purposely or accidentally on the property. Therefore, they may be liable for injuries if a dangerous condition is created that is likely to cause harm to trespassers, and the danger is not open and obvious. An example is if a property owner digs a deep hole in the property and does not post a warning sign or block it off.

Dangerous Dog

For a property owner to be liable for a trespasser’s injury caused by a dangerous dog, the property owner must have known or had reason to know that the dog was dangerous and likely to cause harm. For example, if the property owner knew that the dog had previously attacked someone or had a history of aggressive behavior, they may be liable if the dog attacks a trespasser.

If you would like to speak with one of our Fresno personal injury lawyers, contact us today.