trespass, teenagers, rail car, burn, liability, damages

Trespassing Teens Awarded Tens of Millions

Teenagers often do stupid and dangerous things, especially when it comes to male teenagers. They take risks and go places they shouldn’t, and there are many who have something of an “immortality complex” when they are young, never imagining that anything bad could ever really happen to them. However, the world is a dangerous place, and there is always a chance that they could end up in serious danger, injured, or worse.

What Happened to the Teens to Warrant Such a Large Lawsuit?

Two teens in the Lancaster, PA area experienced the reality of a dangerous world when the two were skateboarding and decided that it would be a good idea to trespass. In 2002, they illegally entered property that was owned by Amtrak. The teens, Jeffrey Klein and Brett Birdwell, who were both 17 when the went onto private property illegally, climbed on top of a rail car. They wanted to see what the view was like.

When they were on top of the rail car, they were burned by an electrical wire that had 12,500 volts running through it. Klein ended up being burned over 75% of his body, while Birdwell had injuries that burned more than 18% of his body. The two sued Amtrak and Norfolk Southern Corp because they suffered these injuries and their lawyers argued that the companies should have added warning signs that would let people know about these wires. They feel that the signage could have prevented the injuries, despite the fact that not having trespassed on the property could have also prevented the injuries.

The attorneys for the companies argued that since the two were 17 years old, they should have been old enough to recognize the dangers that were present. However, the attorneys for the youths said that even though the teens might have been trespassing, it did not negate the fact that companies are responsible for the safety of their properties, and that trespassing would not provide the companies with immunity to the law.

Klein was awarded more than $11 million in compensatory damaged, and Birdwell was awarded with more than $588,000. In addition, they also were awarded punitive damages of about $12.5 million. It can be difficult to know exactly how to feel about this particular case. There is a certain amount of sympathy for the teens who were burned, but there is also the fact that they would not have been in the predicament had they not trespassed.

Homeowners and Business Owners Need to Beware

While the award in the above case was quite large – more than $24 million – it is not an isolated case. Business owners and homeowners have been sued many other times by people who have trespassed on their properties and who were subsequently injured on the property. It is important that property owners understand their rights and their obligations when it comes to keeping their property safe, even though it seems to fly in the face of justice that someone who is trespassing has the right to sue.