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Civil Liability for Trespass in California

Trespassing is the legal term for when one person enters onto another person’s land without legal right or permission to be there. The trespassing can be considered a crime, a civil wrong, or both depending on a particular case.

When a person trespasses onto another person’s land and steals some personal property from the owner he can be charged with criminal trespass. When the trespasser breaks something on the homeowner’s property he can be sued under civil tort law.

Elements of Trespass

  • To establish this claim, the plaintiff must be able to prove the following elements
  • The plaintiff owned, leased, occupied, controlled the property
  • The defendant intentionally, recklessly or negligently entered the plaintiff’s property or defendant intentionally, recklessly or negligently caused another person to enter the plaintiff’s property
  • The plaintiff didn’t give his permission for the entry or that the defendant exceeded the plaintiff’s permission
  • The plaintiff was actually harmed
  • The defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff

What Kind of Acts Constitute Trespass?

Trespass can be committed intentionally, recklessly or negligently. If a trespasser doesn’t know that the is deeded land, but with inquiry can find out, the trespass is negligent. Trespass requires some form of physical entry or contact with the plaintiff’s land. That entry could be the defendant going onto the plaintiff’s land, throwing or putting an object on it, causing a third person to enter onto the plaintiff’s land or discharging some substance onto the land. Trespass also takes place when a person fails to leave the owner’s property after permission to enter has been first given but then ended or revoked.

Legal Action Against a Trespasser

In case property was damaged by someone who committed a trespass the owner can take civil action. The owner can sue the trespasser even though the property was not damaged. In this case, the amount of compensation will be equal to the price that a reasonable person would pay for the right to pass over the land. The defendant can also ask for an injunction to stop the trespass from happening again.

Examples of Trespass

Here are some examples of trespass in California:

  • A neighbor enters onto private property to cut vegetation or trees without the owner’s permission. In similar cases, California law is especially strict. There are Civil code sections which allow for the recovery of treble damages for the loss of trees. The trespasser is liable for three times the value of the trees and punitive damages.
  • A neighbor places a barrier or some other object on another person’s property without permission. An injunction can be obtained in court to force the removal of the barrier in addition to damages.

Types of Damages for Trespass in California

A property owner or tenant has a legal right to get compensation for trespass to his land, and recover the following damages:

  • Loss of market value
  • Loss of use of the property
  • Physical injury to the person or to the land
  • Discomfort and annoyance
  • Emotional distress
  • Costs of restoration

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