Am I liable for trespassers on my rural property? Understanding Occupier’s Liability

"The concept of occupier’s liability is somewhat muddy. Perhaps the best way to protect yourself as a landowner is to display a “no trespassing” sign to make it clear that those who enter upon your property assume the risks of doing so."

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Photo by Gerry Thomasen, Creative Commons License.

Many of us take affront to “no trespassing” signs. We want to maintain our freedom to wander, to access to spots on the river, our favourite climbing crags, or ride mountain bike trails. However, access to these spots sometimes passes over private land. Recreational values can compete with other uses of Crown land, as I discussed in an earlier column. Managing recreational values is even more difficult when it comes to private lands. Private landowners have a number of concerns when it comes to allowing the public to cross their property: privacy, damage, and of course, liability.

Occupier’s Liability is a legal concept that establishes a duty for landowners to ensure that their property is reasonably safe for those crossing it. If someone injures themselves on your land, as a landowner or tenant, you could be liable.

In rural recreation areas, your duties towards users are somewhat limited. Someone who enters upon recreational trails is deemed to have accepted the risks that go along with that use. The Occupiers Liability Amendment Act saw the duty of care that landowners owe to the uninvited public only a very limited duty of care. If you create a danger with the intent to do harm to someone (for example, setting up trip wire), or act with reckless disregard to the safety of others, you could be in legal trouble.

However, in situations in which someone is invited upon your property, or you are in a non-recreational area, your duty as an occupier extends further. You must see that the premises are reasonably safe for anyone who might enter upon the property. Of course we have a duty to act in a reasonable way with regard to our own safety, but as an occupier of land, you need to ensure the premises is reasonable safe.

The concept of occupier’s liability is somewhat muddy. Perhaps the best way to protect yourself as a landowner is to display a “no trespassing” sign to make it clear that those who enter upon your property assume the risks of doing so. If you plan on crossing private land, take good care and act sensibly.