Chicago Personal Injury Blog

Trespassers & Premises Liability

Every once in a while, there’s a news article about a burglar who breaks into someone’s home and sues the homeowner when the burglar trips on the stairs or is otherwise injured by some condition in the home. If you’ve read an article like that, you probably felt pretty irate. After all, that burglar shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

In Illinois, it’s the general rule of law that someone who owns or is responsible to maintain a property — usually a homeowner or business owner — has to make the premises reasonably safe for people who visit. However, the law does draw a distinction between people who are invited or who are permitted to enter, such as guests at a party or customers of a business, and people who are trespassing.

When it comes to people who are permitted on a property — known legally as invitees or licensees — the owner or occupier has a duty to take reasonable care to either fix problems or warn guests about unsafe conditions of which the owner or occupier has knowledge, that the guests could not reasonably be expected to discover for themselves, and that could foreseeably cause injury. If the owner or occupier fails to take reasonable steps, he or she could be deemed negligent and be liable for injuries to the invitee or licensee.

With trespassers, an owner or occupier generally owes no such duty of reasonable care. Negligence in failing to repair a defect or to warn about a hazard will not typically make the owner or occupier liable for injuries to a trespasser in Illinois. However, the owner or occupier may be liable for injury to trespassers resulting from willful and wanton conduct. Willful and wanton conduct goes beyond ordinary negligence and encompasses intentional actions or actions that show a reckless disregard for the safety of others.

Even under the standard of liability for willful and wanton conduct, a property owner or occupier must have either actual or constructive notice that a trespasser is on the premises. Actual notice is pretty straightforward — the owner or occupier has concrete knowledge that the trespasser is there, such as by seeing the trespasser or being told there’s a trespasser. Constructive notice means a property owner or occupier should have known a trespasser was there.

There are a couple of exceptions when the owner or occupier of a premises may have some responsibility for negligently causing injury to a trespasser.

  • The owner or occupier was engaged in some dangerous activity on the premises
  • There is some part of the premises that is unreasonably dangerous
  • The owner or occupier is aware that trespassing is a frequent occurrence and hasn’t done anything to prevent trespassing. The classic example of this is a property owner who knows children take shortcuts through his or her property to get to school.

In those circumstances, the owner or occupier may owe the trespasser a duty of reasonable care in Illinois.

If you’ve been injured on someone else’s property, you may have a premises liability claim and may be able to recover payment of your medical costs, lost wages, disability and disfigurement, pain and suffering, and loss of normal life. The experienced Chicago personal injury lawyers at Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. can discuss with you your options for compensation. Call us at (312) 236-2900 for a free consultation today.