Civil Trespass to Land Lawsuits. In Utah, there are criminal trespasses and civil trespasses to land. Criminal trespass is prosecuted by the State of Utah, generally by justice court city or county prosecuting attorneys. Civil trespass is for money damages or injunctive relief are brought by the landowner themselves against the trespasser.

A criminal trespass and civil trespass can be from the same underlying trespassing incident. You can be criminally prosecuted and sued for money damages from the same underlying trespassing event.

Trespass and Money Damages in Utah. The essential element of Utah civil trespass is physical invasion of the land, or in other words, there must be an encroachment on the rights of another. Sycamore Fam., L.L.C. v. Vintage on the River Homweowners Ass’n, Inc., 2006 UT App 387.

Continuing v. Permanent Trespasses. When a cause of action for trespass accrues for statute of limitations purposes depends on whether the trespass is permanent or continuing. Where a trespass is of such character that it will presumably continue indefinitely it is considered “permanent,” and the limitations period runs from the time the nuisance or trespass is created. However, if the trespass may be discontinued at any time it is considered “continuing” in character. Sycamore Fam., L.L.C. v. Vintage on the River Homweowners Ass’n, Inc., 2006 UT App 387, ¶ 3

Examples of Civil Trespass in Utah

Dumping of garbage on another’s land.
Sewer pipes built under another’s land.
Continuing to be on someone else’s land after being asked to leave.
Any invasion on another’s real property with their consent or right to enter.

Trespass based on construction company’s placement of fill soil on owners’ property that buried owners’ retaining wall and neighbors. Carter v. Done, 2012 UT App 72, 276 P.3d 1127

Landowners brought suit for trespass against neighbors for building home that encroached on landowners’ property. Gallegos v. Lloyd, 2008 UT App 40, 178 P.3d 922

Shopping center owners brought action against owners of adjacent fast-food restaurant for breach of contract and trespass regarding restaurant’s drive-through facility and signs. Papanikolas Bros. Enterprises, L.C. v. Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers of New York, Inc., 2007 UT App 211, 163 P.3d 728

Civil Land Trespass Money Damages

The factfinder, which can be a judge or jury may award money damages as compensation for the harms and damages caused by the trespasser. Damages may be economic, non economic or trivial (nominal) damages. Civil trespass can be heard by a jury or judge, but only a judge can enter an injunction.

Economic damages are calculateable and generally precise. They could include lost use of the land during the trespass or damage to the land. Or the cost to fix the damage to the land.

Non economic damages are supposed to make up for what occurred. Or to make the landowner whole as if the trespass didn’t occur.

Trivial damages are called nominal damages and have been defined as $1, or some other small amount to signal that the trespass occurred, but significant damages didn’t result.

Punitive damages are unique and not always available unless you can prove by clear and convincing evidence (higher standard than the normal preponderance) the trespasser’s malicious intent. Landowners may also recover punitive damages for even harmless trespasses if they can prove that the trespasser committed the trespass with a complete disregard of landowner’s legally protected interest in the exclusive possession of their land.

To prove punitive damages the landowner must prove trespasser’s conduct was willful and malicious or that manifests a knowing and reckless indifference and disregard towards landowner. Linebaugh v. Gibson, 2020 UT App 108, ¶ 38, 471 P.3d 835, 848

Related Lawsuits

Trespass to Chattel (Personal Property, Not Real Property)


Utah Jury Instruction on Trespass to Real Property.

CV1201 Trespass to real property

In this action, Plaintiff landowner seeks to recover damages from Defendant for a trespass to his property [could be a home, cultivated land, Walmart or any piece of real property].

To establish Plaintiff Landowner’s claim for trespass against the property involved in this case, you must find that:

1) Plaintiff was the lawful owner the property; and

2) Defendant interfered with landowner Plaintiff’s exclusive right to possession of the property by physically entering or encroaching upon, or causing something to physically enter or encroach upon Plaintiff’s land; and

3) Defendant intended to perform the trespassing act that resulted in the unlawful entry or encroachment upon Plaintiff’s property; and

4) Defendant had no right to do the act that constituted the unlawful entry or encroachment upon Plaintiff’s property.

CV1205 Damages – nominal damages

If you found that Defendant trespassed Plaintiff’s real property, you may award economic, non-economic, or nominal damages to Plaintiff.

Even if you find that no actual damage was suffered by Plaintiff as a result of Defendant’s trespass, you may still award Plaintiff a trivial amount, called “nominal damages,” to compensate Plaintiff for the invasion of Plaintiff’s property rights. “Nominal damages” has been defined as a trivial sum such as one dollar.

ATTRIBUTION: The above language is found in Utah caselaw is not the author’s. Often the quotes are styled and internal citations removed for ease of reading by the user. All attribution should go to their judges who wrote the opinions.