Trespassing and Landowner Liability

The law is likely on your side, but you need to know your state’s trespass laws.

If you’re concerned about trespassing and your liability, you’re not alone. Many landowners have heard horror stories of trespassers suing over injuries sustained while trespassing on private land, and they worry it could happen to them.

In reality, the law is largely on your side. But that doesn’t mean you have no liability. The law does require a certain duty of care for all visitors to your land, even those who enter it without your permission.

You can’t, for example, attack or unreasonably detain someone for trespassing in your woods, and you can’t create hidden dangers on your property. But as long as you don’t engage in gross negligence or willful misconduct that harms the trespasser, you’re not liable for any dangers they encounter on your land.

Children, however, are a different story. Your duty of care is higher if the trespasser is a child. According to a legal rule called the attractive nuisance doctrine, if some feature on your property—a dock, shed, or piece of machinery, for example—might attract a child’s attention, you may be required to keep that area safe, and you could be liable for injuries children sustain on your property.

For more on liability and visitors to your property, check out Landowner Liability 101 in the insurance subpages, which has a more comprehensive treatment.

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