Published September 06, 2011, 12:00 AM

ND law designed to protect landowners, put responsibility on trespassers

As landowners post signs for hunting season, concerns about trespassing come into play. The North Dakota Legislature thought ahead and passed House Bill 1452, giving landowners immunity for injuries to

By: By April Baumgarten, The Dickinson Press

As landowners post signs for hunting season, concerns about trespassing come into play. The North Dakota Legislature thought ahead and passed House Bill 1452, giving landowners immunity for injuries to trespassers. “I’ve heard horror stories of someone coming into a house to steal something and falling down the stairs and breaking a leg,” said Rep. Randy Boehning, R-Fargo. “Juries have ruled for the one who got hurt and was stealing from you and that’s not correct.” Leaders passed the bill during legislation in April. The intent is to eliminate liability to landowners for injuries to trespassers. Boehning and Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo, sponsored the bill. Thoreson said the American Law Institute suggested that landowners had liability for injuries to trespassers. “If someone is on my property without my permission, they should not be able to come after me because they tripped on my child’s toy in the middle of the night,” Thoreson said. “I don’t want people getting sued over coming into your house or onto your property and falling over and getting hurt,” Boehning said. “People are targeted that way.” Another concern Boehning had was for landowners during hunting season. North Dakota has an “open hunting” policy, Dickinson Attorney Mark Greenwood said. “Hunters can hunt on private land if it’s not posted,” he said. The North Dakota Chamber of Commerce lobbied the bill. A responsible business owner should be protected when trespassers are injured, Chamber of Commerce President Andy Peterson said. “From time to time someone would enter a business illegally or after hours, get injured, and then tried to sue the business owner,” Peterson said. “We thought that was just wrong.”

There are provisions in the bill that a landowner could be held responsible for child trespassers if the landowner failed to exercise reasonable care. Peterson added business owners have a responsibility to properly mark and fence off property.

“There needs to be a reasonable person theory about this thing,” he said. “As long as it is marked and people understand and the message is clear, then, if a trespasser enters and is injured, the owner ought to be held harmless.”

Five representatives voted against the bill. Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, said the bill was re-lining current law.

“There were some people who felt the bill wasn’t necessary because it was current practice,” Hogan said.

Another concern on the bill is that a lawsuit had not been brought up in North Dakota, Hogan added, and creating a bill would cause more litigation.

“Why are we writing a law for something that hasn’t happen when the current practice and the rules by the (North Dakota) Supreme Court already follows that standard?” Hogan said. “It was based on incident in other states, not in North Dakota.”

Thoreson said the Legislature should get in front of the issue. He added that if an injured trespasser won a case it would be harder to change into law.

“We are not changing what is currently in effect in North Dakota, but we are freezing it at that point,” Thoreson said. “We make laws based on what could happen. Saying, ‘Because it hasn’t happened so we shouldn’t change it,’ is a hard argument to defend.”

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