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Do Property Owners Have a Duty to Trespassers?


Although, as a general rule, property owners (and those with possession and control of real property) owe a duty to all people who enter the property, California law does recognize an affirmative defense if a person is injured while committing a felony on someone else’s property. In such cases, the felon often cannot sue the property owner for negligence under a premises liability theory.

That said, there may be other causes of action that even a felon can bring – for example, if the property owner has set up an illegal trap with the intention of harming someone who enters the property without permission.


Older laws (based on the common law) used to impose a higher degree of duty on land owners and landlords with regard to protecting licensees and invitees against harm. Under the common law, public policy required more protection for invited guests than it did for trespassers, on the theory that the land owner or landlord owed more care to “invited guests” than to those who entered the land without permission.

However, current California law makes no distinction between trespassers, invited guests, and those with any kind of right or license to enter property. The land owner, landlord, or person in control of the land owes the same degree of duty to anyone who enters the property, regardless of the reason or method of entry. (However, defenses may apply when the injured party was hurt while committing a felony–see above.)

The status of the injured party is still relevant to the court’s analysis, however. A court can consider the status and reason for the injured party’s presence on the land, and his or her actions while on the land, when determining whether or not the land owner acted reasonably with regard to fulfillment (or breach) of the duty of care.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses) are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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