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Can a Burglar Sue the Homeowner for Injuries?

A burglar smashed your living room window to break into your home. While he was in the process of taking your flat screen television off the wall, he steps on your kid's toy car and falls on his back, spraining it. The TV then falls on his face breaking his nose. To add insult to injury, the burglar is now suing you for his injuries!

Can a burglar really sue the homeowner for injuries during a break in?

Premise Liability

According to premise liability rules, homeowners are sometimes liable for injuries suffered on their property. The level of responsibility varies depending on the type of person injured.

Invitees

Invitees are people who the homeowner invites onto the property for a specific purpose. For example, a gardener is an invitee because he's invited onto the property by the owner to take care of the garden.

For invitees, homeowners have a duty to take reasonable steps to assure that the property is safe for the invitee.

Licensees

Licensees are people who with the consent of the homeowner enters property for their own purposes. A social guest is a licensee. For licensees, homeowners must exercise reasonable care to protect licensees from known dangers.

Trespassers

Trespassers, including burglars, are people who do not have permission or a lawful right to be on a homeowner's property. Homeowners, generally, have no duty to protect trespassers from dangers. So, a burglar cannot sue for tripping on a toy car or being hit by a falling television.

Exceptions

There are several exceptions to this rule:

  • Known trespasser -- Homeowners can't possibly anticipate a random burglar coming into their home. However, if there are signs of a frequent trespasser, the homeowner does have a duty to warn about known dangers on the property.
  • Booby traps -- Homeowners can be sued for willful and wanton conduct that injures a trespasser. This means don't set up any booby traps meant to injure a burglar or trespasser.
  • Deadly Force -- While you may be able to use deadly force to defend your life in some states, you can never use deadly force to protect personal property.

If you are ever sued by a burglar or other trespasser for injuries suffered while on your property, consult with a personal injury defense lawyer for help.

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