A) The Myth:
Remember hearing from some friend or family member that if a person injures themselves while burglarizing your home, they can sue you and win. Ever wonder if such nonsense is really the law?
B) The Truth:
Well, like most things that you hear from unreliable sources, for the most part it is UNTRUE, with only a slight glimmer of partial truth.
C) The LAW:
In Colorado, all injuries occurring on the property of another, whether commercial or residential, are regulated by the Colorado Premises Liability Act. It provides a three-tier hierarchy of levels of responsibility to landowners, depending on the status of the injured person on the property at the time of injury.
1) Invitee: these are people such as customers in a grocery store. Generally, they are on the property of another to conduct business. Landowners are held to the highest responsibility under these situations.
2) Licensee: these are the casual guests, like a neighbor who comes over to borrow a cup of sugar or the couple you invited over for dinner.
3) Trespasser: pretty self explanatory-think "burglar." However, a trespasser could also be a person in an area of the property where they are not allowed (i.e. a customer who walks into the kitchen of a restaurant). Landowners have the lowest level of responsibility to these people.
The practice tip for attorneys representing people injured on the property of another is to argue that the status of the injured person is that of an invitee, or at worst, a licensee. Whenever possible, avoid having your client labeled as a trespasser.
The simple reason for this is that the higher the status of the injured person as it relates to why they were on the property (invitee better than licensee better than trespasser), the easier it is to prove your case and win for your client.
A landowner is liable to a business invitee for injuries caused by a dangerous condition or activity on the property that they knew or reasonably SHOULD have known of.
Compare that obligation to the one owed to a person who is merely a licensee. Landowners are liable to licensees for injuries caused by a dangerous condition or activity on the property of which they had ACTUAL knowledge. That means that even if they should have known about the danger, the landowner will not be held responsible if they can prove that they didn't have actual knowledge of it.
However, if the injured person is determined to be a trespasser, then the landowner is ONLY liable if they INTENDED to create the injury. Think bear trap by the front door to catch the burglar. In reality, practically never will the landowner or occupant be determined responsible for injuries to trespassers.
So, "The Myth" we started with above would only be true provided that the burglar can prove that the landowner set up some sort of booby-trap on his premises designed to hurt a potential trespasser. Granted, those situations actually do happen but very infrequently.
As long as you avoid such things as setting up a shot gun to go off if someone opens a particular door, or digging a big hole in your yard designed to trap a thief, then the chances of being sued by your burglar is extremely remote. And the chance of them actually recovering against your homeowner's insurance is even more remote.
At Anderson Hemmat & McQuinn, we understand that sometimes people are injured through no fault of their own by a dangerous condition on a property. If you are unsure if you were an Invitee, a Licensee, or even a Trespasser, and you were injured, please call and speak with one of our attorneys today.