The Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog

Premises Liability and Your Duty to a Trespassing Santa

The fat man wants his cookies. Melty chocolate chip, snicker doodle, or peanut butter, it doesn't matter. Those cookies will be his. He'll slide down the chimney. He'll crawl in the window. He might even pick the lock on the front door, if it's necessary.

Of course, blinded by his sugary substance abuse and addiction to gift giving, he's bound to be in a rush. Eventually, he'll run into a lit chimney, or a hungry Rottweiler, or if Macaulay Culkin is around, a booby-trapped nightmare.

As a homeowner, you should be concerned. While your duty to keep the premises safe varies depending on whether Santa was trespassing or not, you still may be liable if he is injured, even if he was unwelcome in your secular Festivus-celebrating home.

In many states, your duty to make your home safe will vary depending on whether the guest was invited onto the property, was a paying customer, or was a trespassing bearded fat man. In Illinois, a landowner's duty is far more simple:

  • If a person is on your property legally, you have a duty to act with reasonable care regarding the state of the premises. This means you have a duty to warn of known dangers, such as that broken step, or to repair unsafe situations, like the spilled oil on the garage floor.
  • If a person is trespassing, the duty is to refrain from willful or wanton conduct, such as setting up booby traps. (Are you listening, Culkin?)

As applied to Santa, if you're leaving out milk and cookies, hanging up stockings, adorning a tree with lights and ornaments, and putting inflatable snowmen on your lawn, you're essentially inviting Santa into your home. Make sure the property is safe.

On the other hand, if your home is lacking in Christmas cheer, and instead has a Festivus pole or a Menorah up, Santa is (mostly) on his own. As long as you don't set up a Saw-like maze of torture devices, you should be free from liability.

Happy Holidays!

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