If an intruder gets injured in your home, can they sue?

Premises Liability
By Goodwin Como, P.C.

It may sound like an absurd question. What rights could an uninvited intruder have if they hurt themselves in your home? While intruders who succumb to injury will usually have limited legal recourse, there are some exceptions to the rule.

To understand the finer points of intruders’ rights, it’s worthwhile to understand the legal concept of premises liability.

What is premises liability?

Premises liability is an area of law that gives protections to visitors on a property. It states that property owners have the responsibility to create a safe space, free of hazards-or to take reasonable steps to warn about such hazards in order to prevent injury to their guests.

In premises liability terms, there are three categories of guest: invitee, licensee and trespasser. An invitee is someone the property owner invited to the property-usually for the benefit of the property owner. A customer in a retail store is one example. A licensee-such as a party guest-has permission to be on the property, but their presence may not benefit the property owner. Finally, a trespasser, as the name implies, is a person who trespasses onto someone’s property without permission.

There are two conditions under which a property owner is responsible for preventing injuries of trespassers:

  1. Regular trespassing: Let’s say you live near a lake. Public parking around the lake is limited, so beach-goers often park on your street and cut through your backyard to access the waterfront. You’re aware of this shortcut, and you tolerate it. If you then set up a shooting range in your backyard, you have a duty to warn trespassers about this safety hazard.
  2. Attractive nuisance: This law applies to children. If you have something on your property that would be attractive-and potentially dangerous-to children, then it’s your responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent a child from accessing the dangerous item. If you have a swimming pool, for example, then you should keep the cover on when it’s not in use.

Understanding your responsibilities as a property owner is important in preventing litigation down the road.