Landowners Have a Duty to Protect Trespassers

My friend, um, Bob, was walking along a trail when he encountered this very intriguing sign.

Driven by a healthy inquisitive nature, Bob climbed over the fence to see what was on the other side.

A lot of yellow tape, orange cones, and safety barriers.
Oh no, the rain caused the trail to wash out!

Who are all the safety barriers for? Bob wondered. Isn’t the locked gate supposed to keep everyone out? Why do they need to put up orange cones for visitors who shouldn’t be there in the first place?

Because our wonderful civil justice system holds landowners legally responsible for the stupidity of trespassers.

In the 1982 case of Bodine v. Enterprise High School, Rick Bodine climbed onto the roof of a school building to steal some spotlights. After removing one spotlight, he was on his way across the roof to reach another when he stepped on a skylight and fell through the glass.

The fall left him paralyzed and brain damaged. The school district declined to press charges, figuring he had suffered enough. Instead of being grateful, Bodine’s family sued the school for negligence.

Bodine’s family demanded $8 million, and the school settled for the nuisance sum of $260,000 plus $1200/month for life (those are 1984 dollars, so I’m not sure how much that would be today).

Taxpayers were rightfully outraged, especially since the quadriplegic Bodine would be on government welfare for the rest of his life regardless of the settlement. California Civil Code 847 was enacted in 1985 in response to that backlash, and now states that a property owner shall not be liable if the trespasser is injured while committing a felony. The trespass itself is not a felony.

And they all lived tortfully ever after.

11 thoughts on “Landowners Have a Duty to Protect Trespassers

  1. Wouldn’t life be so much simpler and fairer if we just hung a sigh above the door advising “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”… perhaps an idiom that could be added to the immigration entry stamp at a USA boarder?

  2. I share with you a true story of a trespasser who fell foul and rightly obtained compensation.. About 30 years ago an acquaintance of mine (JG) was walking home. It was a Saturday night and rather worse for wear he staggered his way home and took his usual shortcut through a hotel carpark… unfortunately during the week a contractor had dug a trench in order to lay some new drainage and in the the dark JG walked straight into the trench..

    he wasn’t found until the workmen turned up on the Monday morning… He was in intensive care for several months and was left with a permanent speech impediment..

    he was trespassing, he was extremely drunk.. but the hotel and it’s contractor had failed to take sufficient steps to protect him and was rightly prosecuted..

    he could have been a burglar, a rapist or mugger intent on hiding in the bushes to attack a hotel guest.. he wasn’t but if he had of been would he have negated his claim of criminal negligence against the hotel and its contractor ?

    1. I’m actually going to disagree with you on the “rightly obtained compensation” part. It’s a tragic incident, but saying the contractor failed to take sufficient steps is too fuzzy. I suspect that there was a lot of arguing over whether the contract should have reasonably expected a trespasser, and whether a reasonable trespasser should have been able to see the trench.

      Stuff like that leads to lots of litigation while only the accident attorneys get rich.

  3. Why does that not surprise me? If you like I can put you in touch with JG and you can get the whole details.. However there was NOT a lot of arguing .. the law in the UK is quite clear when it comes to the responsibility on landowners to protect the public.. accidental man traps (unmarked trenches on dark roads) are in reality no different from deliberately sprung loaded bear traps or land mines. the courts like me believe that one has a right to live in a safe society .. that’s why we in Europe ban guns and man traps and pass laws to protect the innocent ..

    Which is why your last comment reveals your ignorance.. It is the absence of Good criminal law which leads to high cost civil litigation.. Ambulance chasing and spurious litigation is an American thing..

    If you don’t understand the difference between criminal and civil law.. stick to writing code Elaine.

    1. annoying that one can’t edit but just to add … regarding your comment ” the contractor [aka respondent ] failed to take sufficient steps” and belief that it’s far too ‘fuzzy’ … is also erroneous.. it is not unusual to find such statements in Court Judgements.. would you like me to reference a couple?

      1. top of Google search list .. 😉

        Reasonable care is the degree of caution and concern an ordinarily prudent and rational person would use in similar circumstances. It is a standard used to determine a legal duty and whether such duty was fulfilled. Reasonableness is a subjective test used to determine negligence, meaning that a person failed to exercise reasonable care.

    2. I live in America, where a person cannot be reasonably expected to know where the acquaintances of anonymous internet commenters reside :b

      1. I know where you live Elaine… (not the precise location but you nationality is very easy to work out..)

        But its irrelevant anyway.. I gave you an actually case and you give the impression that you object that it’s not in a county you approve of ? Are you a sock puppet of Ivanka Trrump by any chance?

        The concept of reasonable care is a pillar of western law, including america.. I referenced a US legal site and definition of Reasonable Care above

        But to be honest to question an aspect of Law that is pretty much universal in the Western World is to reveal ones ignorance of basic legal principals

    3. You lost me when you go to “to protect the innocent” don’t think you can use that phrase when you mentioned he COULD have been a rapist, and maybe he still would have been protected by said law, a rapist or murderer would not be innocent, and yet could still be protected by that law

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