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Bill Would Limit Trespasser Lawsuits Against Homeowners, Landowners in S.C.

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Spartanburg attorney Gary Poliakoff argues against a trespassing bill Thursday at the Statehouse. Spartanburg attorney Gary Poliakoff argues against a trespassing bill Thursday at the Statehouse.
COLUMBIA, S.C. -

A bill now making its way through the South Carolina Senate would limit homeowners' or landowners' liability if a trespasser on their property gets hurt. Attorney Will Johnson says previous cases in the state show the need for the law.

"A drunk driver of a motorcycle was trespassing on a landowner's property; drove his motorcycle up an embankment. The motorcycle rolled over and led to serious problems. In that case, there was a lawsuit against the landowner," he says.

In another case, a group of boys was walking on property owned by International Paper in Georgetown County. There was a canal on the land, with a pipe that went out into the water. The boys walked out onto the pipe. One of the boys, only 10 years old, fell into the water and drowned. His family sued for wrongful death.

While those cases illustrate why some lawyers say the bill is needed, there was no specific case that prompted Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, to sponsor it. What prompted the bill was a new "Restatement of the Law," a series of legal papers by scholars that's put out by the American Law Institute. Judges can use them to make rulings.

Johnson says the latest Restatement of the Law expands the duties of property owners to potential trespassers, which goes against South Carolina's common law. He says if lawmakers don't pass this bill, it would likely mean a lot more lawsuits against homeowners and property owners, which in turn would drive up liability insurance prices for everyone.

Sen. Martin says if his bill passes, "The landowner would be assured that if a trespasser, or an uninvited person, is on their property and they fall and get hurt or in some way injure themselves, they're not liable."

But Spartanburg attorney Gary Poliakoff says, "There simply is no need to do this, and in doing it we upend this 150 years of well-reasoned case law."

He says the way the bill is worded, some protections for children would be eliminated.

A Senate subcommittee worked on the bill Thursday morning, deciding to look into the case law and possibly amend the bill. No vote was taken.

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