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Can You Be Sued for Shooting a Trespasser?

ELI5: Negligence

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If you’ve watched Home Alone, you’ve perhaps thought about taking the law into your own hands, vigilante style. Though Home Alone has a special place in the hearts of many personal injury attorneys, our legal team cannot in good conscience advocate for employing Kevin McCallister’s home security system. 

It’s Complicated

Whether or not you can use deadly force to stop a trespasser is actually a rather complicated question. Depending on your circumstances, you may face both civil and criminal penalties for shooting someone. A lot of people believe that they’re allowed to shoot anyone who’s stepped on their property without invitation. In fact, homeowners have in the past been tried for murder after using deadly force to stop a trespasser. Because of all this, it’s not a good idea for anyone, let alone a law firm, to make sweeping statements regarding whether or not you should take the law into your own hands when it comes to stopping those who are breaking and entering.

What Is Premises Liability?

Premises liability is a concept that states that the property owner is responsible for injuries that their guests sustained on their property. Premises liability applies to both residential and commercial properties. But there are limits to premises liability. For example, if you’ve been injured on someone else’s property, but you weren’t injured due to the property owner’s negligence, it may be more difficult for you to file a claim. If you own a property, it’s your responsibility to keep it safe for your guests. This may mean that you need to remove hazardous conditions, or take reasonable precautions to reduce the risk of injury if the hazard is not removable.

What about Trespassers?

If you read the aforementioned closely, you probably realized that property owners have a duty, or legal obligation to keep their property safe for their guests, but trespassers aren’t guests. If you spill soda on your kitchen floor, and your guest slips, falls, and breaks his leg, you could be liable for their injuries because of premises liability. But if you spill a soda on your kitchen floor, and a burglar slips, falls, and breaks his leg while trying to rob your house, who’s liable? Well, likely not you—but since we’re a law firm, we need to imply that anything is possible, because it is. However, it’s important for everyone to understand that just because a burglar can’t sue you for stepping on your legos, doesn’t mean that they can’t sue you for civil assault. 

What Is Excessive Force?

Many states have stand-your-ground-laws that grant citizens the right to use a reasonable amount of force when defending themselves and their home from a burglar. Notice that we italicized reasonable. Is it reasonable for you to use deadly force when a harmless salesman crosses your property line? Probably not—in fact, there’s a good chance that there’d be some pretty big consequences for that. In the eyes of the law, there’s a difference between a person who’s trespassing into your yard, and someone who’s trespassing into your home. If you shoot a trespasser, there’s almost certainly going to be an investigation into whether or not you used excessive force. Therefore, if you own a gun, and you’re planning on using it for home defense, it’s a good idea to stay up-to-date with your specific town’s ordinances and laws.

Can You Set up Traps?

 If Home Alone has you feeling inspired, you may want to rethink your inspiration. Most states have laws that prohibit setting up traps in order to ensnare burglars. If you know, or reasonably should know that a person could be injured on your property, you likely have a duty to take reasonable precautions in order to reduce the likelihood of injury. Setting up traps is the exact opposite of this, especially if you know a burglar is going to be paying your home a visit. So, if you set up traps when you know a burglar is coming, you can be liable for their injuries in a personal injury case. 

Injured over the Holidays? We’ve Got Your Back.

If you’ve been injured this holiday season and you need an attorney who’s looking out for you, contact Moxie Law Group today to get started on your risk-free consultation. Our consultations are designed to help those who have been injured determine whether or not filing a personal injury claim would help them get the compensation they deserve without paying anything upfront. Then, if we determine that we can help you get the compensation you deserve, we’ll work on contingency. This means that you don’t pay us until you are compensated. If you go all the way to trial, and you lose your personal injury claim, you won’t have to pay us anything. Contact Moxie Law Group to get started.

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