Can Trespassers Launch Personal Injury Suits?

Written by
Abraham Jaros
Updated on Tuesday, Nov 7, 2023

For the most part, if someone injures themselves while trespassing on private property in New York it is not possible to hold the property owner liable. A person usually trespasses at their own risk.

However, there are important exceptions.

Dangerous Dogs

In New York, a “dangerous dog" is one who has, in the past, attacked and has injured or killed a person, farm animal, or pet, or who behaves in a way that causes a “reasonable person" to believe the dog poses a serious, unjustified, imminent threat.

If a property owner leaves such a dog on their property without posting signs warning that there’s a risk of harm from a dog on the property, and a dog attack harms a trespasser, then the property owner might be liable for those injuries.

Willful and Wanton Conduct

The trespasser may be able to claim liability for willful and wanton conduct in an instance where dangerous activities were taking place on the property, or major hazards existed, but no warning signs were posted.

Another example might be a property owner who sets up “booby traps" in an effort to hurt trespassers.

Discovered Trespassers

If the property owner knew or had reason to know that trespassing was happening on the property and did not either post warnings about safety hazards or take steps to correct them then they could be sued.

Yes, the trespasser was breaking the law by being there. Nevertheless, a property owner has a duty to protect human life on their property. This exception balances the trespasser’s wrongs against the property owner’s responsibilities.

Reasonably Foreseeable Trespass

If a reasonable person would look at a piece of property and determine that trespass is likely, then they should act as if they have already discovered trespassers and take steps to warn trespassers about hazards or to correct hazards they find.

It is not enough to say that the property should be vacant because no invitations are being issued. Trespass is a normal risk of owning property. However, what a “reasonable" person might see as foreseeable is certainly open to debate.

One thing the lawyers might look at is history. For example, there’s a long history of railway trespasses that should tell anyone who owns property along a railway line that their property may be a bit more prone to trespass than other properties. Property owners also need to watch out for “attractive nuisances," which are hazards that look attractive to children such as backyard swimming pools and trampolines. Children don’t necessarily read signs and warnings, and if the property owner didn’t lock the gate, put up a fence, or take other precautions then they could be liable when a child gets hurt.

Get Help Today

We don’t condone breaking the law, but there may be cases where trespass was unavoidable, innocent, or even the result of a mistake. We may still be able to help you, even if the circumstances of your injury weren’t perfect.

All personal injury cases are complex. If you’ve been hurt and aren’t sure whether you have a case, reach out to our office for a free case review.

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