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Who Is Responsible for Injuries to Trespassers?



Premises liability in Michigan dictates that property owners must keep their premises safe for visitors. Understanding liability where injuries occur on someone’s property can be crucial, and a personal injury lawyer from Christensen Law can help navigate these intricate legal waters, ensuring that rights are protected and justice is served. This responsibility extends to various scenarios and can be pivotal in cases involving injuries to trespassers. While property owners owe a certain level of care to lawful visitors, the duty of care to trespassers is significantly different. Let’s explore the various ways this duty is approached and understood within the legal framework.

The Duty of Care to Trespassers

In Michigan, property owners typically owe a limited duty of care to trespassers. This means they are not generally responsible for ensuring the safety of those who enter their property without permission. However, there are exceptions, particularly when the property owner is aware of the trespasser’s presence or when the trespasser is a child.

The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

One of the most significant exceptions to the limited duty of care is the attractive nuisance doctrine. This legal principle holds property owners accountable if they have hazardous conditions on their property that are likely to attract children. If a child trespasses because of an attractive nuisance and is injured, the property owner may be liable.

For instance, an unsecured swimming pool or abandoned machinery can draw the attention of children. Property owners must take reasonable steps to secure such dangers to prevent harm. The attractive nuisance doctrine underscores the heightened responsibility towards minors who are less likely to recognize potential hazards.

Willful and Wanton Conduct

Another critical aspect of premises liability involves willful and wanton conduct. Property owners cannot willfully or wantonly cause harm to trespassers. This means that while they might not be required to keep their property safe for all visitors, they must not engage in behaviors that intentionally cause injury to trespassers.

An example would be setting traps or creating hidden dangers intended to harm anyone who trespasses. Such actions can lead to severe legal repercussions and negate the limited liability property owners usually have towards trespassers.

Known Trespassers

When property owners are aware of trespassers’ frequent presence on their land, they may be required to take reasonable steps to prevent injury. This does not mean they owe the same duty of care as invitees or licensees, but there is an expectation to avoid gross negligence.

For example, if a property owner knows that people often cut through their yard as a shortcut, they may need to address any particularly dangerous conditions like uncovered wells or hidden barbed wire that could cause serious harm.

Legal Defenses for Property Owners

Property owners facing premises liability claims from injured trespassers have several possible defenses. Understanding these can be crucial in mitigating liability and protecting their rights.

Trespasser’s Conduct

One of the primary defenses is to argue that the trespasser’s own conduct contributed to their injury. If a trespasser was engaging in reckless or illegal activities that led to their harm, this can significantly reduce or even eliminate the property owner’s liability.

For instance, if a trespasser was injured while attempting to vandalize property or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, these factors could play a substantial role in the outcome of a premises liability case.

Assumption of Risk

Another defense is the assumption of risk, which argues that the trespasser knowingly exposed themselves to the hazards present. This defense relies on demonstrating that the trespasser was aware of the risks but chose to proceed anyway.

For example, if signs are posted warning of dangerous conditions, such as “Beware of Dog” or “No Trespassing,” and the trespasser ignores these warnings, the property owner may have a valid defense against liability claims.

Comparative Negligence

Michigan’s comparative negligence laws can also influence premises liability cases involving trespassers. Under these laws, if the injured party is found to be partially responsible for their injuries, their compensation may be reduced proportionally.

This means that if a trespasser is deemed to be 50% responsible for their injuries, any damages awarded would be reduced by half. This legal principle ensures that liability is fairly distributed based on the actions of all parties involved.


Understanding these nuances is essential for both property owners and injured parties. Whether dealing with premises liability claims or seeking to defend against them, the complexities of these cases require careful legal consideration. For those facing such challenges, consulting a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can provide the necessary guidance and support to navigate these intricate legal landscapes.

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