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Burglars suing homeowners: How home insurance can help

Burglars Suing Homeowners: Just Who is the Victim?

You’d think that a burglar suffering an injury from an understandably irate homeowner would be an occupational hazard, yet some burglars are suing for their injuries – and in certain cases winning! looked at what rights you have when defending your property, and how home insurance can help in the event of a break-in.

‘Reasonable force’ allowed – but what is ‘reasonable’?

According to the law, if a burglar enters your home, you are within your rights to defend yourself and your property using ‘reasonable’ force. What is deemed ‘reasonable’ however depends on the circumstances. 
Defending yourself using ordinary household items, such as golf clubs or cricket bats, is considered acceptable whilst the burglar is on your property. If you strongly believe the burglar to be armed with a lethal weapon, such as a knife, arming yourself with an equivalent weapon is also satisfactory.

NOTE: The court will only grant permission for the criminal to sue the homeowner if grossly excessive action was taken, or if the homeowner had not been acting to defend themselves, their family or property from the trespasser.

‘Retaliation’ not allowed

Once the burglar has left your property, the immediate threat is over, so an attack against the intruder after this point is considered unlawful. 

In 2002, Barry Hastings was sentenced to five years imprisonment under these circumstances, for stabbing a burglar who had already left his property. As any potential danger to Hastings or his property was past, the judge deemed his behaviour to be an act of ‘retaliation’.

It’s also possible for homeowners to be sued for damages under the Occupier’s Liability Act 1984 if a burglar is injured whilst on their property. In 2002, Brian Fearon tried to sue farmer Tony Martin (who was imprisoned for killing Fearon’s accomplice) for damages after his leg was injured whilst leading a break-in at Martin’s home in August 1999. Fearon was granted public funds to sue Martin on the grounds his injured leg had prevented him from working.

NOTE: The law is on your side – not the burglar’s. In 2003, the government changed laws relating to burglary, so that a burglar who is injured by a householder whilst committing an imprisonable offence cannot sue for compensation without permission by a court.

How can building and contents insurance help?

Home cover can help in two ways:

  • Injury protection

    Some home insurance policies may cover you against legal costs and losses incurred (up to an agreed amount) if someone, including a trespasser, injures themselves in your home and sues you for damages. 
  • Replacement of items

    Having adequate contents insurance can replace your stolen items, and in doing so can help alleviate some of the distress associated with burglary.

NOTE: Always read your home insurance documents policy carefully so you know exactly what you are covered for in the event of a burglary.

And finally, for some really useful info, read our top tips on burglar-proofing your home.

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