Do trespassers have the right to make a claim?

You may have seen the sensational headlines in the news over the last few years: ‘burglar sues after falling through kitchen roof’, or ‘family forced to pay damages after trespasser trips in their garden’.

They’re pretty common and designed to cause outrage among the newspaper’s readers. Surely a trespasser, who has no legal right to be on the ground, doesn’t have the right to claim…do they?

It’s a question we’re asked all the time, but one that doesn’t have a straightforward answer.

The two examples above both focus on claims made by trespassers trying to break into a residential property. In those cases, the people living in the home have a good (but not bulletproof) case against the trespasser. Trespassing isn’t a criminal offence, but it is a civil one and therefore private action can be taken against the trespasser just for being there.

The reason we say the case isn’t bullet proof is because of implied right of access, which gives people the right to walk up and knock on your front door if they have a reason for doing so. Technically, a TV license collector would be classed as a trespasser because they don’t have permission to be on your land. But they do have implied rights of access, and if they were to fall and injure themselves on the way to your front door, you could be liable.

But this blog isn’t about residential trespassing. And trespassing on the grounds of a club is entirely different.

Unless your club is a private members club which has expressly forbid anyone who isn’t a member from entering the grounds, your club might be considered a public place where trespassers are expected.

The key thing to remember here is that a trespasser is defined as ‘a person entering someone’s land or property without permission’.

That means that you don’t have to have bad intentions to be a trespasser.

Kids playing on a club’s football pitch could be considered trespassers. A family having a picnic on a club’s cricket wicket could be considered trespassers.

But both of those scenarios are common occurrences and a court room would see them as such. If trespass such as those two examples is common, you have a duty of care to ensure that your grounds are not going to cause harm to anyone on them.

Take this scenario for example. You run a football club and you’re having your pitch resurfaced so you can improve drainage. The workmen doing the improvement dig a trench to help take away excess water from the centre of the pitch to the side-lines. It’s getting late in the evening and they don’t have time put a cover over the trench so they leave it exposed. Later that night, a man takes his dog for a walk on your pitch and falls in the trench, breaking his leg.

Dog walking on your pitch is common. You should have recognised this when having the work done. You could be liable for any damages claimed.

But like anything in insurance, there are grey areas and each case must be considered on its own merit.

It’s vital that you consider all risks to make sure that you avoid them.

We hope this short blog has been helpful, but if you need help identifying your risks, or would like to speak to a broker who has expertise in all areas of club insurance, get in touch today.