You should always be able to relax and feel safe on your private property. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. In 2017, over 2,500 property crimes were reported in the Muncie metropolitan area, a number that is nearly 20% higher than the national property crime rate.
If someone trespasses on your property, you have the right to press charges against them. But if a trespasser was injured while on your property, then you could be held liable for their injuries.
Trespassing means intentionally entering someone else’s property without permission. This includes entering a property after being denied entry, and remaining on a property after being asked to leave. In Indiana, trespassing is usually charged as a misdemeanor, but in some cases it can be treated as a felony.
Intent is important: accidently stumbling onto someone’s land while hiking wouldn’t typically be considered criminal trespass. However, hopping a fence to take a shortcut through someone’s backyard, or throwing a party in your neighbor’s woods without their consent, could be criminal trespassing.
In the Case of a Slip-and-Fall
As a property owner, you are responsible for creating safe conditions for any visitors or guests to your property. This includes fixing hazards when you become aware of them, and informing guests of any dangerous conditions.
This responsibility doesn’t extend to uninvited trespassers that you had no idea would even be on your property in the first place. If a trespasser slips and falls while sneaking across your property, then you generally won’t be held liable for their injuries.
It is not your responsibility to make your property safe for criminal trespassers. However, if you are aware that trespassing is happening on your property, then you should anticipate dangerous conditions or hazards on your property that could cause injury.
You are liable for injuries to trespassers if:
- You didn’t warn trespassers about dangerous conditions on your property by putting up signs
- You believed trespassers wouldn’t notice the dangerous conditions on your property (until they’re injured, in which case it would be too late for them to avoid it)
- The dangerous conditions or hazards on your property would likely cause death or serious bodily harm
- You created or maintained the dangerous condition yourself
Let’s say that your house borders Ball State University property, and you regularly see students passing through your yard on their way to class. You do not put up warning signs or a fence. That night, a student trips on a hole on your property and breaks her ankle. Because you didn’t take steps to warn students about the dangerous terrain, you could be liable for the student’s injuries if she decides to file a premises liability claim.
Protecting Your Muncie Property
You may not purposefully create a dangerous situation to harm trespassers. An exception to this rule is if an armed burglar breaks into your home and threatens you, in which case you could use deadly force to defend yourself.
Otherwise, if you create the dangerous or potentially fatal conditions on your property that led to the trespasser’s injuries, you will be liable if they make a claim.
For example, let’s say you’ve only seen students trespassing through your neighbor’s yard. To prevent trespassing on your own land, you dig a trench along the border of your property where students are likely to walk and cover the trench with leaves. If a student is injured because of the covered trench, you would be liable for their injuries.
Help from a Muncie Premises Liability Attorney
Though you will not generally be held liable for a trespasser’s injuries on your property, there are exceptions. For a free conversation with an experienced Muncie premises liability lawyer, call us or contact Hensley Legal Group online today.