Children Trespassing on Vacant Property Personal Injury

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Can the Owner of Vacant Property Be Held Liable for Injuries to Trespassing Children?

Yes, but only in a small number of cases.  When dealing with trespass into vacant property, courts generally give trespassing children the same treatment as trespassing adults.  More specifically, owners of vacant property are not obligated to keep the property safe for use by unknown trespassers.  As a result, owners of vacant property are likely to not be found liable for child injuries on the premises, unless the injury was a result of willful and wanton misconduct, or due to conditions considered as a public nuisance.

What Is Willful and Wanton Misconduct?

Willful and wanton misconduct usually occurs when the owner intentionally creates conditions in a vacant building that are more than likely to lead to injury.   An owner who sets up a spring loaded shotgun to deter potential trespassers is one good example.  Other specific examples of willful and wanton misconduct can vary depending on the facts and circumstances of each case. 

What Is a Public Nuisance?

Public nuisances usually occur when conditions inside the vacant property greatly interfere with the health and safety of the general public.  For example, a vacant building on a major street may be considered a public nuisance if its foundation has worn away, increasing the likelihood that the building is about to collapse.  Consequently, trespassing children who are injured by the building's collapse may be able to recover for their injuries.

It is also important to note that, in some cases, vacant property may also be regarded as an attractive nuisance.  In other words, the property itself contains hazardous conditions that may attract the attention of children who may be too young to understand the risk involved.   As a result, the vacant property owner may be held liable for any child injuries. 

Do States Have Laws That Make Vacant Property Owners Automatically Liable for Child Injuries?

Yes.  Many states have public nuisance and attractive nuisance laws in place that require vacant property to adhere to certain conditions.  In some cases, a vacant property owner's violation of such laws makes them automatically liable for any injury that occurs to trespassing children.  Additionally, violation of building codes may also make a vacant owner liable for any resulting child injury on the property. 

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

If your child was injured while trespassing on vacant property, you should contact a personal injury attorney to learn about your legal options.  A lawyer can inform you on child trespass laws in your state, and whether they apply the general rule listed above.  In the case that your state follows the general rule, an attorney can help determine whether conditions in the vacant property constituted willful and reckless misconduct or a public nuisance.

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Last Modified: 05-09-2011 10:42 AM PDT

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