Periodically we discuss important legal principles in the District of Columbia and Maryland. An area of particular confusion for both our clients and the public involves the law of so-called "premises liability" or property owner responsibility.

Our last discussion on this topic concerned the duty owed a trespasser by a Maryland property owner. The context for that discussion concerned a neighborhood that I advise that has a rock quarry/lake on its premises. The homeowners understandably were concerned about trespassers drowning in the quarry.    Similar concerns have been brought to our attention by homeowners with swimming pools. Can they be sued if a child comes on to their property and drowns in the quarry or pool?

The short answer is yes they can be sued but not successfully. As we examined in July 2010, a person who is on the property without the consent of the property owner is a trespasser and the duty owed to a trespasser by a landowner is to "refrain from willful injury or entrapment." 

Which is to say setting traps for trespassers or intentionally injuring them could give rise to a lawsuit but anything short of that will not pass legal muster. We have seen tragic cases of toddlers drowning in their neighbors pools. The three-year-old understandably finds the next-door-neighbor's pool inviting. Maybe they have even swum in the pool before as an invited guest. The bottom-line, if one day their backyard gate is open and the pool gate next door is open and the child drowns the case will likely be summarily dismissed by the Maryland trial court.

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