Homeowners and landowners owe a different duty of care, or level of responsibility, toward the people that come on their property.
For the most part, anyone who is invited to be on the property should be shown the highest level of care -- followed closely by those who have a right to be on the property for the sake of business, like postal workers and meter readers.
Trespassers, however, are generally thought of as intruding where they are neither welcomed nor expected -- which means that homeowners and landowners have the least amount of responsibility for their safety.
However, "least" does not equal "none," and that's an important distinction to make in the law. Despite what you may have heard, if you strayed onto someone else's property (or crossed over the boundary line intentionally) and were injured, you may still have the right to recover for your injuries.
Here are some signs that a trespasser could still have a viable personal injury case:
- The injured person was a young child and he or she was attracted to something on the premises. For example, a big pile of sand with some shovels sitting around might be considered an "attractive nuisance" that effectively lured the child into trespassing.
- The property owner was aware that people routinely trespassed through the land and created a condition designed to injure those trespassers. Trip wires, holes dug in the ground and covered up or rigged traps of any sort aren't legal means of keeping trespassers at bay.
- There was a known danger on the property, the landowner had either reason to think or actual knowledge that trespassers would come through, yet still refused to exercise even a minimal amount of reasonable care nor gave any warnings to prevent an accident. For example, if the property is gated and there's a sink hole developing around an old well, it isn't unreasonable to expect the landowner to put up a warning sign and put locks on the gates -- especially if he or she knows that people routinely use the property as a shortcut when walking to town.
Never rely on what you think you know about the law. Laws regarding premises liability are very complex and you could be entitled to recover your damages despite being a trespasser.