Ireland’s Trespasser Liability Rules a Lesson for New York

By: Adam Morey

In most jurisdictions, including almost all U.S. states, a property owner is not liable to a trespasser — or an uninvited guest — except in a few specific situations. Unfortunately, New York is not one of those states. So, according to state law, if a hiker is strolling through farmland without permission, and ends up injured through no fault of the landowner, the farmer can still be sued for that accident.

I was reminded of New York’s outlier status when it comes to trespasser liability while flipping through a recent issue of The Week. The publication notes an editorial by Irish Times columnist John O’Dwyer who laments that litigation may ruin his walks through the “sublime Irish countryside.” Indeed, from Galway to Dublin, Ireland’s natural features are an important draw for tourists and locals alike. That is, until last year when the trails through the country’s gorgeous landscape became “blossomed with ‘no access’ signs.”

Teresa Wall won a lawsuit against a property owner after she tripped while hiking Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains. And while a high court reversed that judgement, saying that the plaintiff was not paying attention, landowners are not encouraged. As O’Dwyer notes, if they can end up on the hook for injuries, property owners might “now abstain from improving trails” for fear that such work could be considered evidence against them. To ensure that the courts avoid placing unnecessary liability on landowners, he believes Irish lawmakers should tighten up the country’s statute governing trespasser liability. New York’s elected officials would be wise to follow suit.

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