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Posted in Premises Liability on August 24, 2022
Generally, property owners owe a duty of care to people who enter their property. This means that if you invite someone to your property and they get hurt by a dangerous condition, you could bear liability.
This duty of care applies to those who have a reason to be on your property, such as a utility employee checking your gas meter. The following are some examples of potential premises liability:
You own a shop, and a customer slips and falls on a wet or icy staircase on your property;
Your dog bites the mail carrier; or
An invited overnight guest suffocates due to a malfunctioning gas heater in your basement.
Typically, a property owner is not liable to a trespasser for injuries suffered on their property. Certain exceptions exist, however.
Suppose you are aware of the presence of a trespasser, such as someone who, for example, takes a daily shortcut through your yard. In that case, you must either repair any hazardous condition or warn them of the danger. For example, you might erect a “Beware of Dog” sign or repair a bridge.
Suppose you build an unfenced deep-water swimming pool in your front yard. Suppose further that you live a block from an elementary school and that children often pass by your property. If a young child trespass on your property to take a dip in your pool, you could bear liability if the child drowns or gets hurt.
Most of us have seen it in the movies-–the “Trespassers Will Be Shot on Sight” sign at the boundary of someone’s property. That might have worked in the Old West, but today it could result in a murder charge.
You cannot shoot someone, assault them, booby-trap your property boundaries, or otherwise deliberately injure a trespasser, except under certain circumstances when you are defending your home.
Self-defense and defense of others are legal justifications on or off your property. If a trespasser threatens you, you have the right to defend yourself with reasonable force. You also have the right to use reasonable force to defend others. Unless the trespasser is inside your home, you must retreat (if circumstances permit) before using deadly force on an intruder.
If a trespasser enters your home under circumstances that reasonably lead you to believe that you or others in your home are in danger, you have no duty to retreat before using deadly force (this is the “castle doctrine”). The castle doctrine would apply to a burglar (especially at night) but not to a Girl Scout selling cookies who wanders into your living room through an unlocked door.
Suppose a trespasser suffers an injury due to a hazardous condition on your property. You need not hesitate to repair it out of fear that your repairs will help the trespasser prove that the condition was dangerous in the first place. New York law prohibits using “subsequent remedial measures” to prove that the condition was hazardous before you repaired it.
However, if you deny your ownership of the property, a trespasser can use your repairs to prove you own the property. This nuance of the law shows how a lawyer can help you defend yourself against such a claim.
In some cases of trespasser injury, it is easy to dismiss liability against a property owner. You shoot an armed burglar inside your home, for example, or an adult climbs over your fence and suffers an injury despite your “Private Property” and “Beware of Dog” signs.
In other cases, the circumstances are not so clear-cut. If you are unsure whether you need a lawyer, seek an initial consultation to get some answers.
We have two convenient locations in New York:
Law Offices of Jay S. Knispel Personal Injury Lawyers – New York City Office
450 7th Ave #409
New York, NY 10123
Law Offices of Jay S. Knispel Personal Injury Lawyers – Brooklyn Office
26 Court St Suite 2511
Brooklyn, NY 11242