Trespassing is generally considered a criminal offense in Texas, so most people would assume that property owners could not be held liable for any injuries that occur to trespassers on their premises. In general, that is the case. Trespassers breaking the law will typically not be protected under premises liability theories. However, there are times when a trespasser could have a valid personal injury claim. Here, we want to review the instances where a property owner could be liable for trespasser injuries in Texas.
Gross Negligence of the Property Owner
Property owners can be grossly negligent in causing harm to trespassers. For example, if there is a dangerous situation that could pose harm to those who come onto the property and the property owners know about the hazard but do not remedy the situation, they could be held liable for any injuries, even to trespassers. If property owners are aware of risks on their own property, they should take action to correct the hazards or post visible warning signs for everyone.
One example of gross negligence, as determined by a Texas court, revolves around the case State v. Schumake. In that case, a girl was tubing at a state park when she was sucked into a culvert and drowned. The state was found liable because it knew about the hazard but did nothing to warn those who might come onto the property.
Property owners could be held liable for injuries caused by unreasonably dangerous activities on their premises, even to trespassers. Some activities that could be deemed unreasonably dangerous include using explosives or using firearms without proper backstops to stop the bullets or shrapnel from straying to unintentional areas of the property or beyond.
Intentional Actions of the Property Owner
Property owners cannot take intentional actions to harm trespassers who do not pose a threat to them or their property. If a property owner knows about a trespasser, but there is no immediate threat to person or property, law enforcement officers need to be notified so they can handle the situation.
If a property owner decides to harm a trespasser through the use of force or with a weapon, but it cannot be shown that other people or property was at risk due to the trespasser, it is likely that the property owner will be held liable for any injuries they cause.
Additionally, it is generally illegal to set booby traps on your property that are designed to cause bodily injury or death, even if the intention is to deter trespassing or criminal activity.
Child Nuisance Laws
Every state has an attractive nuisance doctrine in place to protect children, even if they trespass onto another person’s property. The attractive nuisance doctrine in Texas states that, generally, children do not understand danger and that property owners can understand if a child might trespass onto their premises. Property owners can be held liable for injuries children sustain if property owners fail to address obvious safety issues on their premises.
For example, if a property owner has dug a large hole that has been filled with water, they should put a fence around the hole so that a child cannot get into the water. Similarly, all open construction should be cordoned off so children cannot get into the construction area and injure themselves. Ultimately, if you’ve suffered an injury due to a defect one’s property, call a Houston premises liability attorney.