Premises liability is a legal concept involving what level of responsibility landowners must exercise to maintain safe premises for other people. A landowner’s duty of care towards a trespasser is different from that owed to guests/invitees in that they must not act in a willful and wanton manner regarding the maintenance of their property.
What are Some Examples of Willful and Wanton Conduct?
Willful and wanton conduct involves a situation where the landowner has specifically made his or her premises unsafe.
For example, if a landowner placed bear traps in the area where packages are dropped off, this could be willful and wanton conduct. If a package meant for a landowner were wrongly delivered to their neighbor and the neighbor then without permission walked over to the landowner’s property to drop off the package and stepped in the bear trap sustaining injury, although the neighbor was trespassing, the landowner’s setting of bear traps in an area where packages are delivered, could be willful and wanton conduct because it is so excessive in nature under the circumstances of maintaining property.
On the other hand, there may be situations where something may be viewed as severe, but does not rise to the level of willful and wanton behavior. For example, if you own a dog who is prone to vicious behavior against strangers and attacks a trespasser inside your own home, this could be considered an exceptional circumstance. The reason would be because one has a right to be safe in their own home.
In other circumstances, the trespasser may not even realize that he or she is trespassing. If for example, the alleged trespasser was invited to someone’s home at 8915 Dunham Lane and accidentally walked onto the premises of 8916 Dunham Lane, the owner of 8916 Dunham Lane cannot then have traps and devices, such as rigged firearms that could potentially cause harm to that person. This is a clearer situation of willful and wanton conduct.
As a practical matter, there are few cases that involve someone who trespasses on someone’s property and then brings a lawsuit when they get injured while doing something illegal. This is primarily because for someone to sue a landowner, they would then have to admit that they were breaking into someone’s home or trespassing on someone’s property which may expose them to criminal liability. However, as described above, even a trespasser can recover compensation from a landowner where the landowner deliberately made their property unsafe.