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Am I Liable if a Trespasser is Injured on My California Property?

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Am I Liable if a Trespasser is Injured on My California Property?

Am I Liable if a Trespasser is Injured on My California Property?

Jun 9, 2021

If you own a home, business, or other piece of undeveloped land in California, you likely take appropriate measure to ensure the property is safe at all times. By not maintaining a safe environment, property owners can be open to lawsuits for slip and falls, trip and falls, and other premises liability cases.

But what if a trespasser enters your property without your consent and ends up sustaining an injury? Does an injured trespasser have any legal recourse in the state of California?

Below we’ll look at what the law says regarding trespassers who are injured on private property. Additionally, we’ll review what steps you can take to preserve a safe property and offer details on how to file a premises liability lawsuit in the event that you suffer a slip and fall in a grocery store, parking lot, or other location.

What Happens if a Trespasser is Injured on Your Property?

What Happens if a Trespasser is Injured on Your Property?

You might be under the impression that a trespasser, as someone breaking the law, automatically forfeits their right to compensation. But there are actually some specific scenarios where a trespasser could file a personal injury lawsuit seeking damages.

California Penal Code 602 explicitly states that trespassing is illegal. However, there may be grounds for a trespasser to file a lawsuit if the premises was unsafe, not clearly marked, or considered to be an “attractive nuisance” (although California no longer has an attractive nuisance doctrine in place).

California law states:

“Every person who willfully commits a trespass by entering upon lands or buildings owned by any other person without the license of the owner or legal occupant, where signs forbidding trespass are displayed, or damaging, destroying, or removing, or causing to be removed, damaged, or destroyed, any stakes, marks, fences, or signs intended to designate the boundaries and limits of any of those lands is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

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If you met the definition of a trespasser as outlined above, you would not have legal recourse or be able to file a personal injury civil lawsuit. However, the key word in the above paragraph is ‘willfully.’ The trespasser must willfully enter someone else’s private property, and that property must be clearly marked as such.

If there are no signs indicating that the property is private, no “no trespassing” posts, no fences, and no restriction on access, the trespasser could technically make the argument that he entered the property by accident. In Southern California, most property boundaries are clearly marked. Many homes are separated by either fencing or gates. But in rural areas, the property lines may not be visible.

In such cases, a trespasser who endured a slip and fall injury could technically file a personal injury lawsuit, making the argument that they were unaware of the property boundaries (and therefore did not realize they were trespassing). It’s a scenario that could easily happen on a farm or other rural setting. And if there are no fence lines or signposts delineating property lines, and a trespasser breaks an ankle while running through the area, he or she could technically bring a civil lawsuit seeking financial compensation.

This is why it is recommended that property owners post visible and clearly-stated signs indicating the boundaries and that the area is “private property” where trespassers are not allowed. Under California law, property owners must provide a “reasonable amount of safety” for those entering their property – whether an invitee, licensee (e.g. worker), or trespasser.

Can a California Property Owner Defend Themselves Against a Trespasser?

Yes. Residential burglary is considered a dangerous crime under the law. Such scenarios could be life-threatening, and a homeowner or property owner has every right to defend themselves while on their own property.

Under Penal Code 198.5 PC, California law follows the legal principle known as the ‘Castle Doctrine.’ Under the Castle Doctrine, there is no duty to retreat if a resident confronts an intruder inside his or her own home. Residents are permitted to use force against intruders who break into their homes (or attempt to force themselves inside).

What is the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine Under California Law?

Prior to 1970, California had the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine in place for property owners. The doctrine was established to hold property owners to a higher duty of care when attractive conditions such as swimming pools or trampolines were visible and could be enticing to children. Under the doctrine, homeowners in California could be held liable for injuries caused to children that trespassed on their property because of the attractive condition.

In 1970, a California court removed the attractive nuisance doctrine from state law (the actual case was Beard v. Atchison).

What is a Duty of Care in Personal Injury Law?

Under California law, a ‘duty of care‘ refers to the legal obligation a party has to avoid injuring others. To successfully bring a personal injury claim like a slip and fall or premises liability case, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate:

  1. The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care
  3. As a result of that breach, the plaintiff was injured

For property owners, the standard duty of care to provide a safe environment for anyone who might enter the premises must be upheld.

How Can I File a Premises Liability Claim if Injured on Someone’s Property?

Provided that you were not defined as a trespasser (per the above legalese), if you were injured at a grocery store, hotel, or apartment complex you absolutely have the right to file a personal injury claim. Doing so can be the best means of recovering financial compensation for various losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity, emotional trauma, and more.

Before accepting a settlement offer from the property owner’s insurance company, contact the experienced premises liability attorneys at Dordulian Law Group (DLG) for a free consultation. We’ll listen to the facts of your case, launch a thorough investigation led by a retired LAPD detective, and prepare a winning legal strategy that helps you recover a maximum financial damages award.

In many cases, the settlement offered by the insurance company is an insignificant figure that will not cover your long-term medical expenses or rehabilitation. At DLG, we’re known for turning initial $5,000 settlement offers from insurance companies into multi-million dollar settlements. We fight on behalf of our clients to ensure they receive the damages award they deserve that will allow for a complete recovery – physically, emotionally, and financially.

Take a look at some of our past results. You’ll notice that we turned an initial $5,000 premises liability offer into a $3.25 million award. That’s the level of dedication and experience we apply to each and every personal injury case we handle at DLG.

If you experienced a premises liability injury, don’t wait to file a claim. Contact our expert attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall or premises liability accident, don’t settle for anything less than the DLG Advantage. DLG was founded by former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian. With over 100 jury trial victories, Dordulian has the experience needed to help you recover the damages you deserve after an untimely accident.

With over $100 million recovered in settlements and verdicts and a 98% success rate, DLG’s Premises Liability Division is the best in California. To learn more about how we can help you after an unfortunate injury, contact us online or call 818-322-4056.


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