Owning property comes with many perks—and even more responsibilities. Most homeowners already know that they can be held liable for injuries people sustain on their premises. That's why comparing home insurance quotes to find a policy with the right level of financial protection is so important. But many are surprised to learn this liability risk doesn't just apply to welcomed visitors; it may also include trespassers.
Yes, you read that correctly. In some circumstances, homeowners owe a reasonable standard of care to people who come onto their property without explicit permission. Standard of care means the "degree of prudence and caution required of an individual who is under a duty of care." And, as a property owner, you are operating under a duty of care to reduce unintentional negligence.
Since various states recognize differing interpretations of liability and negligence, where you live affects this standard of care. For example, according to the Ohio State Bar Association, liability there depends on:
- Nature of the visitor: Were they an invited guest, someone conducting a business transaction, or a trespasser?
- The owner's awareness: Did the property owner have knowledge of potential danger on their premises that caused an injury?
States that follow common law standards for duty of care typically split visitors into three categories: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Homeowners owe different duties to each classification of entrant, with trespassers entitled to "little or no duty" compared to others.
However, more recently, some states have adopted the American Law Institute's "Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical and Emotional Harm." This interpretation abolishes those three categories, dictating that property owners should uphold an "integrated and general duty of reasonable care." While it does mention "flagrant trespassers" as an exception, there's no concrete definition for what that term entails. In short, legislatures can come up with their own definition for what falls under flagrant trespassing. As you can see, this means that landowner responsibility varies depending on the jurisdiction in which the property falls. What's "flagrant" in one state, and thus excluded from the reasonable duty of care, might not be in another.
It's also worthwhile to note that "trespassing" does not necessarily mean a malicious intruder has to sneak onto your property. Halloween trick-or-treaters seeking candy and holiday carolers are two prime examples. In situations like these, liability may depend on something as simple as whether or not you had your porch light on. An illuminated porch or welcoming sign may signal to strangers you're inviting them onto your property. This would necessitate a higher level of care than if the light was off. But still, better safe than sorry when it comes to hazards. It's smarter to fix potential injury risks—like potholes or unstable stairs—before anyone steps foot on your property.
There is one notable exception to the typical standard of care. If yours is one of the 60.2 percent of American households that owns a dog, pay special attention. Many states recognize strict liability for dog bites. This means if you knew your animal "exhibited dangerous propensities," you'd be liable for resulting injuries—even to a trespasser.
Long story short: The reasonable standard of care is typically lower for trespassers than for invitees. However, homeowners can still be held liable for injuries to trespassers, depending on where they live and the circumstances.
Comparing home insurance quotes and finding a policy beforean incident is the best way property owners can protect themselves. Get free quotes from CoverHound today!