A trespasser is someone who willfully comes onto your private property without your permission. Trespassing is considered a misdemeanor offense under California law. It would be easy to assume then that a trespasser would have no ability to bring a premises liability claim against a property owner for injuries they incurred. However, this is not always the case. By law, California property owners must keep their property reasonably safe for anyone who enters, including trespassers.
Do California’s Premises Liability Laws Differentiate Between Trespassers and Other Individuals Who May Come Onto Your Property?
Many states designate what duty of care is owed to an individual based on their reason for coming to the property. In these states, the responsibilities of the property owner change depending on whether the person on the property is an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. However, California’s current premises liability laws do not make these distinctions. Instead, California’s laws are based solely on the property owner’s negligence. A property owner is considered negligent if they:
- Do not keep their property in a reasonably safe condition for anyone entering the premises.
- Fail to identify any reasonably discoverable unsafe conditions and post warnings or fix the situation.
How Do Courts Decide Whether a Property Has Been Kept in a “Reasonably Safe” Condition?
To determine whether a property owner in a premises liability case has been negligent in the upkeep of their property, the court must consider several different factors. Most cases hinge on the foreseeability of the injury. In other words, should the owner have anticipated that someone, even a trespasser, could be hurt due to the unsafe conditions on their property? Some questions the court may take into account in their decision include the following:
- Is the property in a location where people would be likely to visit it?
- Were there “no trespassing” or other warning signs posted?
- How likely was it that the unsafe condition would cause serious harm?
- Was it possible to keep the unsafe situation from causing injury?
- Was the owner aware of the potentially harmful condition?
- Could a reasonable inspection have uncovered the dangerous condition?
What Are Common Defenses in Property Liability Cases?
As frustrating as it may be to face a liability case from a trespasser, many defenses are available to a property owner in these scenarios. If the defendant can prove any of these things, the court may rule in their favor:
- The unsafe condition was obvious and should have been noticed and avoided by the plaintiff.
- The plaintiff’s injury was caused by their negligent misuse of property.
- The injury was not caused by a significant unsafe condition but was instead the fault of a trivial defect on the property.
Other arguments may also be appropriate based on your unique situation. Because this area of California law can quickly become complex, it is recommended to consult with a knowledgeable premises liability lawyer about the specifics of your case. Contact our office today to schedule a free consultation: (949) 749-7402.