Ryals v. United States Steel Corp.

562 So. 2d 192 (Ala. 1990)



The standard of care that a landowner owes to a trespasser is generally recognized as the lowest standard of care owed to one who enters upon another's land. The landowner is bound only to refrain from reckless, willful, or wanton conduct toward the trespasser. The highest degree of care imposed upon a landowner by this traditional common law rule toward a mere trespasser is not to recklessly or wantonly injure that person. "Wantonness" has been defined by the court as the conscious doing of some act or the omission of some duty under the knowledge of the existing conditions, and conscious that from the doing of such act or omission of such duty injury will likely or probably result.


Plaintiff administrator and the decedent trespasser on respondent landowner's land for the purpose of "stripping out" copper, brass, and other salvageable metals. Decedent died during those actions on respondent's land. Plaintiff filed a claim that respondent's wanton failure to maintain and secure a "switch rack" caused decedent's death. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of respondent. On plaintiff’s appeal, the state supreme court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.


Was respondent landowner entitled to a summary judgment under the appropriate standard of care it owed to decedent, as a trespasser, who, at the time of his injury, was engaged in the crime of theft of respondent’s property?




The degree of care that respondent landowner owed a trespasser who wrongfully entered the land to commit a crime was the duty not to intentionally injure a trespasser. A chain link fence topped with barbwire surrounded the "switch rack" and there was at least one sign warning of the presence of electricity. Thus, respondent did not intentionally cause decedent's death.

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