A landowner owns and occupies a large tract of land. The landowner has a special interest in emergency preparedness and disaster survival, and uses parts of the land for this interest. On one corner of the property, the landowner has put up a shed where the landowner stores food and supplies. Buried beneath the shed is a shipping container that the landowner uses as a storage cellar. The container is made of thick steel, and is approximately the size of a school bus. The container is accessible only through a trapdoor in the floor of the shed, which opens into the ceiling of the container. The distance from the trapdoor to the steel floor of the container below is approximately seven feet. There is no stairway and no ladder beneath the trapdoor. There are no signs or other warnings in or near the shed.
The shed is visible from several nearby parcels of land, all of which are residential tracts with houses on them. The houses are visible from the landowner’s property. There are no fences around the landowner’s property. At intervals along the landowner’s property line, two-foot-tall surveyor’s stakes with orange plastic flags indicate the boundaries of the landowner’s tract. The landowner has no reason to think that anyone has trespassed on the land.
A and B are eight-year-old children, each of whom lives in one of the neighboring houses. One day, out of curiosity, A and B decide to go look inside the landowner’s shed. They enter the shed, find the trapdoor open, and decide to enter the shipping container. The children expect to find stairs or a ladder beneath the door. However, as they step through the trapdoor, they fall seven feet to the floor of the container. Each child suffers cuts and broken bones from the fall.
The landowner is unaware that A and B entered the property. After several hours, the parents of A and B become worried and begin to search for the children. They consider the possibility that the children have wandered onto the landowner’s property, and they decide to enter the property to look for them. They first look in the shed, because it is the most obvious feature of the property. There, they hear A’s and B’s cries for help, and the parents rescue the children.
Once the children are safely home, one of their parents, C, decides to return to the property to take a closer look at the shed before speaking to the landowner about the incident. C is unaware that the landowner has placed traps at intervals around the property. Some of these traps are intended to protect the landowner’s property from trespassers, while others are intended to catch animals for meat and for fur. The traps are camouflaged, and there are no warning signs on the property. As C walks toward the shed, C steps on a hidden animal trap, which is a jaw-type trap designed to catch rabbits and other small animals. The trap closes on C’s leg, breaking C’s ankle.
A, B, and C sue the landowner, seeking to recover for their respective injuries. The landowner defends by arguing that A, B, and C were trespassers, as to whom the landowner owed no duty. The applicable jurisdiction follows the common-law approach to landowner liability, as modified by modern law regarding child trespassers.
- Did the landowner breach any duty owed to A and B? Explain.
- Did the landowner breach any duty owed to C? Explain.