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This might come as something of a shock, but if you are a landowner and a member of the public is injured while trespassing on your land, there is a possibility they might be able to sue you for compensation even though they shouldn’t have been on your land in the first place.

Landowners obviously have a duty of care to their own visitors, and can be held liable if one of those visitors is injured due to negligence on the landowner’s part. But under section 1(3) of the Occupiers Liability Act 1984, landowners in England and Wales may owe this same duty of care to people trespassing on their land if:

  • The landowner knows of the danger, or should know of it, and
  • The landowner is aware of the fact that people do frequently (or even occasionally) trespass on their land, and should therefore expect that these trespassers might be at risk.

That’s one of the reasons many landowners decide to invest in land insurance, which can help insure them against the risk of liability claims.

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Surely it isn’t fair for a landowner to be held liable if a trespasser is injured?

While this rule seems very unfair on the landowner at first glance, it’s important to bear in mind that the legislation was created in order to protect children, which are often more likely to trespass on other people’s property than adults are, and are also owed a greater duty of care than adults.

In fact, if the trespasser was an adult and they tried to sue the landowner after they suffered an injury there’s a very good chance the courts would side with the landowner.

Still, if you do decide to take out this type of landowner liability insurance in order to cover the risk of liability claims by visitors you have invited onto your land, it’s good to know that you’ll also be covered if an unwelcome visitor takes you to court.

Is it true landowners in Scotland face an even higher risk of liability claims?

Scotland has had legislation in place since 2003 that gives members of the public “the right to roam”. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gave the public the right to access and travel across most of the land in Scotland in a responsible manner, including privately-owned land.

While residential gardens, school grounds, sports fields, airfields, railways, construction sites and military sites are excluded from this right to roam, as is agricultural land where crops are currently growing, the vast majority of the land in Scotland is open to members of the public, giving rise to the saying “there’s no such thing as trespassing in Scotland”.

Unfortunately for landowners in Scotland, the fact that members of the public can access their land without being classed as trespassers means their duty of care to these visitors is the same as it would be to someone they invited onto their land, and as such they do have a higher risk of liability claims than landowners in England and Wales.

Is landowner liability insurance a legal requirement in the UK?

No, public liability insurance isn’t a legal requirement in the UK, so no matter which part of the country you own land in, you aren’t obliged to take out landowner liability insurance.

Is this type of insurance appropriate for neighbours that share a private road?

Yes, it should be possible for neighbours who share a private road to jointly take out a land insurance policy, which would then protect each of those neighbours from the risk of legal action if someone was injured on that road and the owners were held liable.

Is this type of insurance suitable for private lakes or rivers?

Yes, despite the name, land insurance isn’t only suitable for land – it can also be used to insure privately-owned waterways.

So if you own a private lake, river or stream and you’re worried about the legal fees and compensation pay-outs you might be forced to pay if you were faced with a public liability claim, a landowner liability insurance policy can help to offset that risk.