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Landowner liability involving trespassers in Pennsylvania

A trespass involves an invasion or intrusion onto the private land of another without consent or authorization. In such cases, a landowner's duty of care is very limited, and any resulting injuries are typically the responsibility of a trespasser. However, there are cases in which a landowner may still be responsible for damages, making it important for those who own land to pay attention to certain features and patterns of behavior.

In most trespassing cases, a landowner's primary obligation is to refrain from reckless or willful conduct that might cause harm to an individual in question. However, a pattern of regular trespassing that is tolerated may increase a landowner's responsibility in a premises liability case. Reasonable care must be exercised toward a tolerated or discovered offender. The amount of care owed may depend upon the frequency of such activity, and in some cases, a landowner may be responsible for addressing safety issues on a property if danger to a trespasser exists that might not be obvious to that individual.

A landowner has an increased duty of care in cases involving a child who trespasses. Attractive nuisance is the standard at issue in such cases, defined as a feature on the property that may draw the attention of children. Because children are deemed to be less able to evaluate the dangers of features such as machinery, animals, storage buildings, and similar attractions, property owners are expected to exercise reasonable care to eliminate dangers or protect children. Streams and ponds, however, are not considered attractive nuisances unless they are known as recreation areas for children over a period of time.

A parent dealing with the aftermath of an accident due to a child's trespassing onto a property with known dangerous features may consider filing a premises liability claim against the landowner. It may be important to demonstrate the attraction of the feature in question or the pattern of use by other children in order to establish a landowner's liability.

Source: Penn State Law, "Landowner's Liability for Land Users and Statutory Protection for Landowners ", September 29, 2014

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