Will a No Trespassing Sign Protect You From Liabilities?

Under tort law, those who own land owe certain duties to people who might enter that land, even trespassers. But tort law recognizes different types of trespassers, and the landowner owes different levels of legal duty to each type. A "no trespassing" sign may reduce the landlord's duty to trespassers, but the analysis may depend on both the facts and the state in which the land is located. Landowners with specific questions about potential liability should consult an attorney.

Landlord Duty

Landowners have a general duty to those who enter their land. Should the land contain hazardous conditions, the owner must warn any parties that he knows may enter his property. However, trespassers (those who enter the property without any sort of authorization) present a special case. Most jurisdictions recognize different types of trespassers. Depending on the type of trespasser, a landlord may not be responsible for the trespasser's injuries sustained on his property.

Discovered Trespassers

If a landowner sees a trespasser or knows that one is on the property, the landowner must apprise the trespasser of any artificial conditions on the property that may cause the trespasser serious injury or death. However, such trespassers, known as "discovered trespassers," take on all responsibility for any injuries they take from any natural conditions on the property, or from any artificial conditions that don't present a particular hazard. Typically, a "no trespassing" sign will not relieve the landlord from his liability to discovered trespassers.

Unknown Trespassers

When a trespasser enters the land without the landowner's permission or knowledge, she takes full risk of whatever hazards she may find on the property. Although a landlord is responsible for intentional injury inflicted on a trespasser, he does not need to verify whether the property contains hazards, or even whether people are entering the property without his knowledge. Therefore, a "no trespassing" sign typically will not change the legal treatment of the landlord in this case.

Anticipated Trespassers

An "anticipated" trespasser is designated as such when the landowner should reasonably know that a trespasser will enter the property. Only a minority of jurisdictions still recognize this distinction; most states now treat anticipated trespassers in a manner similar to discovered trespassers. In many jurisdictions that recognize the distinction, however, the presence of a "no trespassing" sign on the property may cause a court to treat an anticipated trespasser in the same manner as it does a discovered one.