Generally speaking, property owners are not expected to keep their property safe for trespassers. The only real exception is when a property owner is responsible for some willful or wanton conduct that results in injury to a trespasser. When it comes to the precise duty that is owed to a trespasser, each state has passed specific laws governing that legal issue. This includes liability for dog bites. Let a Joplin personal injury lawyer explain what happens if your dog attacks someone trespassing on your property.
What makes a person a trespasser under the law?
Under the law, a trespasser is basically someone who comes onto property owned by another without having permission to do so. When it comes to liability, though, there are classifications of trespassers: discovered and undiscovered.
This distinction between a discovered and undiscovered trespasser
If someone is considered an undiscovered trespasser, then the property owner’s only duty not to engage in willful or wanton misconduct. Alternatively, if a trespasser has been discovered – meaning the property owner knows the trespasser has been on the property before – then the property owner owes a duty of ordinary care and to warn the trespasser of known dangers on the property.
What does a duty of “ordinary care” mean?
A property owner owes a duty of “ordinary care” to a trespasser only when there is at least general knowledge that trespassers consistently come on that property. If the property owner engages in a dangerous activity of some kind or maintains a man-made condition that the property owner knows or has reason to know could be dangerous. In that situation, if the dangerous condition would not have been discovered or appreciated by a reasonable person trespassing on the property, then the property owner could be held liable.
What does the term “willful and wanton misconduct” refer to?
The legal definition for a “wanton act” is an act committed with “reckless indifference” to the possibility of sustaining an injury. “Willful acts,” on the other hand, are committed by someone with actual or constructive knowledge that a dangerous condition exists but the person makes a conscious decision not to take steps to prevent possible injury.
There are limits to a property owner’s duty
As you can see, when trespassers are involved, a property owner typically does not owe any specific duty if there are no dangerous conditions on the premises. The reasoning is that a property owner should not be expected to protect a trespasser as well as anticipate that a trespasser will come onto the property. Instead, property owners should be able to assume that no one will trespass on their property.
A Joplin personal injury lawyer understands the trespasser laws
As in most states, a trespasser in Missouri is generally not owed a duty of ordinary care, even if the trespasser had no knowledge that he or she was on private property. Nor is it required that the trespasser has a malicious purpose for being on private property. Nevertheless, some courts in Missouri have recognized a trespasser’s right to sue a property owner, but under limited circumstances. For example, when there is a dangerous condition created by the property owner that exists close to a neighboring property or a public right of way, a property owner may be held liable for resulting injuries. This can include dangerous dogs or other animals.
A Joplin personal injury lawyer explains Missouri’s strict liability rule
In most cases, a state will follow either the “One Bite Rule” or the “Strict Liability” rule when it comes to dog bite injuries. States, such as Missouri, that follow the strict liability rule will hold a dog owner responsible for injuries to another, regardless of whether the dog has ever bitten anyone in the past. Put simply, the dog owner is responsible simply because the dog belongs to them.
While strict liability is the most common rule, it is clearly a very strict rule. It is not relevant whether you took any precautions or had any idea that your dog posed a threat to others.
The strict liability rule may offer some relief when a trespasser is involved
In cases where the person who was bitten by a dog was trespassing, the property owner is typically not held liable for any injuries sustained, even under the strict liability rule. Ultimately, with very few exceptions, a dog owner is not responsible for a dog bite to a trespasser.
If someone was on your property without permission and was injured by your dog, contact an experienced Joplin personal injury lawyer at the Cottrell Law Office online or by calling our toll free number (800) 364-8305.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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