In addition to criminal statutes that prohibit trespassing upon public or private land and may lead to criminal prosecution where a trespass occurs, Arizona courts have recognized a civil cause of action for trespass, allowing claimants to sue others who cause injury to their property.
The Elements Of A Trespass Claim
The Arizona cases involving trespass claims indicate a requirement that a physical intrusion or entry upon the land or property belonging to someone else is a necessary element of a trespass claim. That is not enough, however, to establish a viable claim. In addition to the entry on the land a trespasser may only be found liable if he or she causes damage to the property owner and/or his or her property.
What Damages Are Available In A Successful Trespass Claim
There are likely thousands of potential trespass claims that arise every single day in Arizona when kids walk home from school. Someone leaves the sidewalk, intruding on private property, and causing "damage" in the form of a bent blade of grass. Such a trivial claim, however, would not be proper to bring and the landowner would never be able to show compensable damages even if the other elements of the trespass claim were established.
If the destruction goes beyond a bent blade of grass, however, damages may be recoverable. Arizona courts, for example, have held that the cost to restore damaged vegetation may be recovered for a civil trespass. In lieu of the cost of restoration, other courts have found that the difference in property value caused by the injury or property damage is an appropriate measure of damages.
As stated by one court:
Generally, the measure of damages for a permanent injury to land is the difference in the market value of the land immediately before and immediately after the injury, but if the land may be restored to its original condition, the cost of restoration may be used as the measure of damages if it does not exceed the diminution in the market value of the land. Where there is a total destruction, the owner is entitled to recover the entire value of the property.
Blanton & Co. v. Transamerica Title Ins. Co., 24 Ariz.App. 185, 188, 536 P.2d 1077, 1080 (Ct. App. 1975).
In the reported cases, damages are limited to these measures and there does not appear to be a basis for recovering other damages, such as those based on emotional distress or punitive theories, absent something beyond the actions giving rise to a trespass claim.
Filing A Trespass Claim
The current statute of limitation for filing a trespass claim in Arizona is two years. If you believe you have such a claim, however, don't wait that long. The laws are constantly changing and the passage of too much time may make it difficult or impossible to gather the evidence to support the claim.