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Friday, March 31, 2017

Trespasser Injuries - Landowner Responsibilities in Missouri

In Missouri, generally speaking, a landowner has no duty to protect a trespasser who enters upon his property. After all, why would you be responsible injuries suffered by someone is unlawfully upon your property?  However, there are some important exceptions where you, as a landowner, could be sued for injuries suffered by a trespasser.

What is a Trespasser?

A trespasser is anyone who enters upon your property without permission or invitation.  The person doesn’t have to have malicious intent to be a trespasser, and “trespasser” can include solicitors and sales people.

Willful or Wanton Acts

In Missouri, the law provides that a property owner/occupant may be responsible to a trespasser for injuries caused by intentional, willful, or wanton acts. Basically, this means that you cannot intentionally or willfully harm a trespasser. For instance, let’s say Joe Smith, without your permission, cuts through your backyard every day as a shortcut. You decide to lay in wait in the bushes with a baseball bat. When Joe Smith cuts through the yard, you jump out and attack him with the baseball bat. This is an intentional, willful and wanton act, and you may be held liable for injuries.

However, Missouri does allow a homeowner to use “justifiable force” to stop a criminal trespasser. Thus, if a burglar breaks into your house and you come at him with the same baseball bat, your actions could be considered justified. Keep in mind, though, that there is always a question as to what is justifiable under the circumstances.

Duty Regarding Dangerous Artificial Conditions

If you have a dangerous artificial condition on your property, you may be liable to an injured trespasser if:

  • You are aware of the trespasser
  • The trespasser is not likely to know of the dangerous condition
  • The condition can cause serious harm or death
  • You do not warn of the danger

For instance, suppose you decide to do some bear hunting on your property.  You set up hidden bear traps in your backyard. You know Joe Smith the trespasser, cuts across your backyard every day. Joe will not see the hidden bear traps, and they can clearly cause extreme injury or death. You don’t post any signs to alert Joe of the bear traps. If Joe is injured by the bear traps, you could be held liable.

Children

When it comes to children trespassers, Missouri adheres to the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. Basically, a property owner/possessor can be held liable to a child trespasser injured on private property if the owner knew or should have known that children were likely to trespass on property because of an attractive, yet dangerous condition (i.e. trampolines, broken appliances, large dirt mounds). In such cases, a posted warning is not typically sufficient to prevent liability since children are not likely to read or heed such warning. Instead, an owner should take proactive measures to protect potential child trespassers.



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