The act of trespass and subsequent remedies for property owners are governed by both common law (decisions made by the courts) and by Washington state statutes. Trespass is a tort,1 which means it is a wrongful act that causes injury to another party and may lead to a lawsuit. Specifically, a trespasser generally wrongfully enters another person’s property, interferes with possession of property, damages property, or wrongfully removes resources from property.
Common law tort liability
The following are the legal elements for you to be able to recover in court if someone trespasses on your land:
- You owned or possessed the real estate at the time of the trespass (can be an owner or tenant)
- Another individual intentionally entered onto your land without proper authorization to do so
- You suffered damage as a result
Intent is an important aspect of trespass onto land. If another person accidentally wanders onto your land unknowingly, it is likely that no trespass occurred.
Additionally, a person may be held liable for trespass even if he or she did not actually enter your land. For example, if the person simply helped another individual enter your land, they both may be held liable. Also, objects may cause a trespass; for example, if a person throws something onto your land and causes damage, they may be held liable for any losses you suffered.
In additional to common law liability, Washington state has two statutes specifically related to trespass liability. These are as follows:
- RCW 4.24.6302 – This law creates liability if an individual wrongfully and intentionally does any of the following:
- Damages personal property on land
- Damages any improvements that were made to the land
- Removes valuable property from the land, including minerals, timber, or crops
- Causes injury to the land or waste
- RCW 64.12.0303 – This statute imposes liability for anyone who intentionally and wrongfully enters land and removes or damages trees, shrubbery, or other timber on another person’s property. This includes cutting down Christmas trees without proper permission.
This is only a brief explanation of the possible liability for trespass to real property and you should always contact an experienced Seattle or Tacoma trespass attorney if you believe you have been the victim of trespass. Call the Dickson Frohlich at (206) 621-1110 or (253) 572-1000 for help.