Around 3 a.m. on July 2, 2012, a 17 year-old boy and two other friends used a fire escape to sneak into the former Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago. The building has been vacant since the 1990s. The teenagers were exploring the second story when the boy fell through a hole in the floor. He was severely injured and rushed to a hospital, where he died a few hours later. Neither of the other two teenagers sustained injuries.
The boy’s father has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both the owner of the building and the company that was hired to keep the abandoned building secure. The lawsuit alleges that the building was not adequately secured from trespassers and that the defendants failed to keep the building in a safe condition. After the accident, the City Inspector checked the building and reported that it had not been “securely maintained.”
According to the legal theory of “premises liability,” whether or not an owner has a duty to a trespasser, who has no right to enter the property, depends on the law of the state. In Illinois, a landowner generally only has a duty to refrain from intentionally hurting a trespasser, but there are certain exceptions that may allow damages to be awarded to a trespasser for injuries sustained on the property or for the family in the wake of a wrongful death.
One exception is the “frequent trespass doctrine.” If owners are aware that there are frequent trespassers on the property and also are aware “of a corresponding risk of harm,” owners have a duty to protect trespassers from that harm. The reasoning is that “human safety” is more important than landowners’ freedom to do with their private property as they wish.
Source: NBC Chicago, “Family Sues Over Trespassing Teen’s Fatal Hospital Fall,” July 18, 2012.
Our firm handles similar situations to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Premises Liability page.