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The Duty of a Landowner to a Trespasser in Maryland

A trespasser is classified as one who enters another’s property intentionally and without consent or privilege. The only duty owed to a trespasser is to “abstain from wilful or wanton misconduct.” Doehring v. Wagner, 562 A.2d 762, 767 (1989); Carroll v. Spencer, 204 Md. 387, 394 (1954) (emphasis added). A “wanton” act is one performed with reckless indifference to potentially injurious consequences. Doehring, 562 A.2d at 767; Wells v. Poland, 120 Md. App. 699, 719 (1998). Moreover, “wanton” conduct is that which is “extremely dangerous and outrageous,” with reckless disregard of others rights. Wells, 120 Md. App. at 719. However, although the above cases define “wanton,” the standard applied by the court to trigger liability to trespassers is higher. The majority of cases use such language as “conduct calculated to or reasonably expected to lead to injury of the trespasser.” Doehring, 562 A.2d at 762; Wells, 120 Md. App. at 721 (emphasis added). For example in Doehring, defendant placing chain across driveway to prevent motorcycles from accessing was not willful or wanton conduct, even though defendant was aware of prior use of driveway by motorcycles. Id.

Our firm recently represented the estate and parents of a minor who was shot and killed while trespassing onto the land of a police officer. Despite the difficult burdens placed upon the trespasser, we were able to prevail. Often, these types of cases will turn on disputed facts. Therefore, the attorney’s investigation and preparation is critical to a successful verdict or settlement.

For further information, please contact the Maryland personal injury lawyers at Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White.

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