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When Protests Go Wrong

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The protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri are a reminder of protests gone wrong.

Any protest worth showing up for is a statement about some form of rights, particularly rights that have been violated or ignored. It is ironic then, that when you are ordered by police to disband and remove yourself from public property and you don’t, you may give up your right to hold the property owner liable for any injury you may suffer on their property.

Normal Premises Liability vs. Trespassing

Typically, property owners are financially responsible under Pennsylvania law for injury accidents that occur on their property. But liability becomes fuzzy when trespassing is involved. When you are trespassing on somebody’s land after being warned either verbally or by posted signs, the property owner may no longer liable for your injuries. It doesn’t mean that the property owner can legally booby trap their property but a slip and fall, trip and fall, or similar accident may no longer be the property owner’s responsibility.

Consequently, if you are protesting past an imposed curfew on the steps of a city-owned building and you fall down the steps due to inadequate lighting, you may have a difficult time showing the city or county liable since it was after curfew when they may not be expected to light up their steps.

It is difficult to understand why a protest over rights would lead to retaliation in the form of looting, but it seems to be a regular occurrence. If you are at your favorite neighborhood grocery store during a late night protest and you happen to slip and fall or injure yourself on the property, the store owner’s insurance may deny paying for your medical bills.

And if during your protest you decide that it is time to make your voice heard by doing some damage, you may also be abdicating your rights to safety on the property you are defacing. Additionally, if in your violent acts against property turn your anger to violence against a person or government official, you may well be giving up your rights to protection under the law and you may be liable.

Riots Aren’t Fun

Tort law becomes especially difficult to enforce during a full-blown riot, mainly because riots have no face or identity. Unless the riot was fomented by some negligent act by officials trying to maintain crowd control or some other illegal action by the government, any injuries you receive as a participant or innocent bystander of a riot may not be able to be blamed on any specific party. Moreover, suing a City like Philadelphia or the Pennsylvania State Governor for not adequately controlling a riot may be very difficult, due to sovereign immunity laws unless an exception applies.  Any protest that escalates to any form of violence may well be an action outside the law. If you are injured during your participation in such an event, the law may not protect you.

Having an experienced personal injury lawyer look at your case is advised. Sometimes there may be a way for you to recover damages if you were injured during a protest or riot, especially if you were an innocent bystander or protesting peacefully.  Here at the Pearce Law Firm we believe in standing up for your rights, but in a non-violent and peaceful manner.

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