The quarry or the trespasser: Who’s to blame?

By |  August 31, 2015

A number of stories appear in newspapers every summer about people who are injured or killed after trespassing into active and abandoned quarries.

The Express-Times based in Lehigh Valley, Pa., published an editorial Aug. 25 about actions quarry owners should take to deter trespassers. Hiring personnel as quarry monitors and adding video surveillance are two of the publication’s suggestions.

We connected with Pit & Quarry safety and law columnist Michael T. Heenan, an attorney at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, for his perspective on how quarry owners and operators should handle trespassers.

P&Q: What is your reaction to the editorial from The Express-Times? We thought it was off base, as Managing Editor Kevin Yanik writes.

Heenan: I agree, the editorial seemed over the top and out there. First, the author wants readers to believe that quarry properties are owned by corporations with deep pockets that can use video or their own patrols, which is not so. Video surveillance requires full-time monitoring, as if companies have resources for that. The same goes for owners patrolling their properties.

P&Q: How can quarry producers and owners feasibly prevent trespassers from coming in and prevent related lawsuits?

Heenan: On encountering a trespasser, owners need to call the police, who can lawfully arrest or physically eject them from the premises. The general rule that property owners are not responsible for trespassers remains the law, and the law recognizes that property owners cannot guarantee people will not enter or if they will be safe if they do so. I also highly recommend if a property owner has trespassers, seek legal advice related to the specific situation under state laws.

P&Q: There are situations in which trespassers can sue quarry owners if they are injured, even though the trespassers are breaking the law themselves. Can you explain why they can still sue quarries in some cases?

Heenan: The laws are not unfair. The laws protect quarry owners, but since quarries pose hazards with highwalls, blasting and unstable ground, there is a greater likelihood that trespassers could be injured and try to sue for any damages.

In this respect, quarry owners are more vulnerable to lawsuits that might allege facts that could convince a jury the owner should have taken action to ward off trespassers.

When you’re a business, you’re more vulnerable to lawsuits. The mining industry is even more vulnerable. Certainly, if you see potential for someone to get hurt, you cannot safely ignore these facts.

Whenever an owner has knowledge a trespasser could get injured, action to remove that person is essential. But if that person comes back without the owner’s knowledge, the owner is in a much better position to show action was taken to warn that person off the property. That would probably be a complete defense in most cases.

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About the Author:

Megan Smalley is the associate editor of Pit & Quarry. Contact her at or 216-363-7930.

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