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Personal Injury Liability for Children Trespassing on Vacant Property

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Will an Owner of Vacant Property Be Liable for Injured Tresspassing Children?

Yes. However, this may only be the case for a small number of situations. Generally, 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. For example. an owner who sets up a spring loaded shotgun to deter potential trespassers is likely going to be held liable for injuries caused by the trap. Specific examples of willful and wanton misconduct can vary depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, but typically involve some excessive and unreasonable risk. 

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 instance, a vacant building on a major street may be considered a public nuisance if its foundation have worn away, increasing the likelihood that the building may collapse. Consequently, trespassing children who are injured by the building's collapse may be able to recover for their injuries.

It is worth noting that, in some cases, vacant property may also be regarded as an attractive nuisance. An attractive nuisance, put simply, is property that 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. 

Are There Laws That Make Property Owners Automatically Liable for Injured Children?

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 contribute to the liability for any injuries to children on the property. 

How Can a Lawyer Help?

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 the trespass laws in your state, and whether they apply the general rule listed above. In the case that your state follows the majority rule, an attorney can help determine whether conditions in the vacant property constituted willful and reckless misconduct or a public nuisance, and help make your case accordingly.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 09-10-2014 11:03 AM PDT

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