Am I Liable If a Trespasser Gets Injured on My Property?
A property owner’s duties of care in Nebraska change according to the type of visitor. An invitee receives the highest standards of care, while a licensee receives slightly less. A trespasser, on the other hand, does not lawfully have the right to expect any duties of care from a landowner. If you own property in Nebraska where a trespasser suffered an injury, in most cases, the trespasser cannot hold you liable for damages. Important exceptions to the rule exist, however. To learn more about how to deal with an injured trespasser, contact our premises liability attorney in Omaha.
You Intentionally Injured the Trespasser
If you were unaware the trespasser was on your land without permission, the only duty of care you owe him or her is not to act in a willful, reckless or wanton manner to injure the trespasser. You do not have a duty to maintain a safe premises, but you do have a duty not to cause an intentional injury to a trespasser that does not appear to pose a threat. Acting in self-defense is a plausible justification for causing a trespasser an injury, and you likely would not be liable for damages in this situation.
Your duties of care change, however, when you become aware of the trespasser on your property. You must treat a discovered trespasser with ordinary care. This includes protecting the trespasser from a foreseeable hazard, such as a hole on your property or an aggressive dog. If you fail to warn the trespasser about the hazard and he or she suffers an injury as a result, you could potentially be liable for his or her damages, even if the trespasser did not have your permission to be on the property.
The Trespasser Is Under 18
Your duties of care are also different toward trespassers who are under the age of 18. Child trespassers deserve the same degree of care as invitees on your property in the eyes of the law. Your duties will include maintaining a safe premises, checking for hidden hazards, repairing known defects and warning of foreseeable risks. You must, therefore, take steps to reasonably prevent injuries to children who may trespass on your property – namely by putting barriers around attractive nuisances.
An attractive nuisance is a dangerous property element that is inherently attractive to children, such as a swimming pool, trampoline, old well, antique car, heavy machinery or farm animals. By putting an attractive nuisance on your property, you take on added responsibilities to keep trespassing children safe from potential related dangers. The law will expect you to take reasonable steps toward preventing foreseeable injuries, such as placing a fence around a swimming pool. If you fail to do so, you will most likely end up liable for a child’s injuries, even if that child was trespassing.
You Failed to Control Your Dangerous Dog
Cases involving known dangerous dogs are also unique. A dangerous dog according to Nebraska Revised Statute 54-617 is one with a record by an animal control authority stating that it has killed a person, inflicted a serious injury (one requiring medical treatment) on a person, killed a domestic animal or has previously achieved dangerous dog status by another animal control authority. Owners of dangerous dogs have greater duties of care to protect the public than typical pet owners. This includes keeping the dog on a leash in public places and not moving the dog out of the county.
If the trespasser on your property suffered a serious injury in a dog attack, and animal control has previously designated your dog as dangerous, you could be liable for the damages. You may have to pay for the trespasser’s medical bills and other losses if an investigation finds that you were negligent in the control of the dangerous dog under the state’s related laws. In most cases, you will be liable for any damages your pet causes if you knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities but failed to take proper precautionary measures.
Premises liability claims involving injured trespassers are complex. If you need help refuting liability for a trespasser’s injuries on your property, speak to an attorney in Omaha.