I have a business … which has a gate around almost all of it. On one end there is an opening that cars have been coming through, to spin donuts on our ball field in back. So I put up a barricade to try to stop this, and they just moved it, or found a way to drive around. So I put up no trespass signs, and put the barricade. But this time I put spike strips down to stop them before they started. A young guy came through the barricade in a big truck and run over the spikes and got four flat tires, and now wants to sue me for the tires. Should I pay him, or take him to court?
Interesting question with no simple answer. While a property owner has the right to exclude others from his property and even use reasonable force to prevent someone from entering his property, in general you cannot set traps to catch trespassers. The court might find that the spike strips (with no warning that they were present) were a trap. That means you would be responsible for the damage to the tires. Think about it this way: a landowner might decide to put up an electrified fence to keep out trespassers, but if the fence was not marked with signs, the owner might be liable for injuries to someone touching the fence.
By trespassing the driver was also breaking the law. He could be prosecuted for trespassing and you could sue him in civil court. However in a lawsuit for trespass you would only be entitled to nominal damges ($1 or so) unless you could show actual injury to your property.
I think right is on your side, but the law favors the trespasser. So if I were the judge for your case I would rule that you had to pay for the damage to the tires, but unless the tires were brand new I would not hold you responsible for the full value of new tires. I would rule that the trespasser owed you $5 for trespassing and I would order him not to enter your property in the future.
Remember though small claims court is about “rough justice.” There is very little argument about the fine points of law. A friend once told me that actual legal precedent carries about as much weight as a comic book in small claims court. If I were you I would wait and see if he goes to the trouble to sue you. Many people don’t bother. If he does sue, counterclaim for trespass. Then offer to pay for repair of his tires or the cost of used tires.