Trespass Attorney

Trespass Attorney in California

When It Comes to Trespass Disputes, No One Has Obtained Better Results

TVA has obtained the largest known trespass verdict in the state of California. No other attorneys have the skillset and dedication to enforce trespass and property dispute claims as the attorneys at TVA do.

There are over 6,500 miles of oil and gas pipelines under California soil, most of them poorly documented. Landowners and developers often find pipelines on their property without a good easement. When they do, they may have an opportunity to disgorge the operator's entire profits.

Surprisingly, few attorneys are aware of this. Oil and gas operators seem oblivious as well, even though their lobbyists, urging against the disgorgement statute in the legislature in the early '90s, acknowledged, "our exposure could be very significant."

At Thomas Vogele & Associates, APC, our trial attorneys serve landowners in hydrocarbon-dense areas of California, including the Long Beach area, Huntington Beach in Orange County, and Kern County, in complex property dispute matters. TVA attorneys secured a rare mandatory federal injunction ordering energy companies to remove pipelines, preventing irreparable damage to TVA's clients.

TVA partner Timothy Kowal has published on the problems associated with wild pipelines that extend beyond their allotted boundaries. Mr. Kowal is frequently asked by bar associations to share his specialized understanding of this practice area with other attorneys. See Timothy Kowal's recent article in the OC Lawyer " Dirty Work Disgorging the Profits of Trespassing Pipelines."

Homeowners, HOAs, and owners of farm land are also likely to come across disputes relating to property boundaries, easements, utility lines both above the ground and beneath, trees and other visibility obstructions, noise and odor abatement, and other nuisance and trespass issues. An attorney who knows the special rights the law affords against efficient trespassers and agricultural trespassers can help you identify your maximum leverage to resolve disputes quickly.

Elements of Trespass in California

Legally defined, an action is considered trespassing when a person goes onto another’s land without permission or the right to be there. In general, trespassing can be considered a crime, a civil wrong, or both. However, if a person goes onto another’s land and steals or harms something, it will likely be considered a criminal trespass and reason for a lawsuit.

In order to establish a person’s actions as trespassing, these are the elements that must be present for the case to be considered:

  • The property was owned, leased, occupied, or otherwise controlled by the plaintiff
  • The person trespassing must have intentionally gone onto the property, whether recklessly or negligently (or caused another person to do so)
  • The plaintiff must have not provided permission for the defendant to be on the property, or the defendant must have exceeded the initial permission they were granted
  • There was harm to the plaintiff or their property and the defendant’s conduct resulted in that harm

Trespass damages can occur whether the trespassing was done intentionally or accidentally, or if an object or piece of equipment that the defendant put on a person’s land caused damage. If someone trespasses on another person’s land, the landowner may be eligible to pursue many types of damages including loss of market value or property use, costs related to injury or damage repair, emotional turmoil caused by the trespassing, and more.

Because of how many elements are involved with California trespassing cases, having a qualified trespassing attorney on your side is incredibly important to having your case be successful. At TVA, we have obtained the largest known trespass verdict in the state of California and we are no strangers to the skills and dedication it requires to adeptly handle trespass cases for our clients.

Trespass Damages

In the event that there are damages or injuries as a result of someone trespassing, trespass damages can be awarded. In any trespass event, the plaintiff is allowed fair compensation for the damages the trespass incident caused, including damages to property, injury, loss profit, emotional distress, and more. If the trespass event impacts the condition of the property permanently (such as if a structure, pipeline, or utility line is added), the plaintiff is allowed to request the structure or utility line be removed, even if the trespass was unintentional. The types of damages that can be awarded are as follows:

  • Actual Damages for the actual damage that occurred due to the trespass
  • Nominal Damages if actual damages are not provable
  • Consequential Damages for all injuries and consequences that are a result of the trespass
  • Punitive Damages if there is a cost associated with restoring the damage that occurred to the property
  • Multiple Damages if several of these situations apply at one time

The damages associated with trespassing are not determined due to any specific guideline and is instead up to the judge or jury to determine exactly what the damages amount to. In most cases, a person will be considered liable for the damages incurred while they were trespassing even if they acted in good faith and made a mistake regarding the ownership or permission granted on the land. In any case, the judge or jury will determine an adequate amount to cover all damages incurred due to the trespassing and, in many instances, can award based on future damages as well in the event of permanent injury.

Pipeline Trespassing

There are many pipelines that run through the soil in the state of California, many of which are not properly documented or mapped. It will generally be possible to get a rough idea of where these pipelines run, but figuring out exactly where they are or if they have the proper property easements in place can be a much more difficult process. In many cases, the companies that install these pipelines have not received proper permission, leading to what is called pipeline trespass.

Landowners who do find the specific location of these pipelines have quite a bit of opportunity, however, as they can disgorge the profits of the pipe owner if there is not a proper easement in place. Because oil and gas companies are overwhelmed with easement documentation in many cases, they often will not hold up when thoroughly pursued by a trespassing attorney. California Civil Code § 3334 allows owners of the land the pipeline runs through the ability to pursue their case and recover any benefits or unjust enrichment that is obtained by a wrongful occupier.

If you have a pipeline on your land, it is possible that you might have a right to the benefits and profits obtained as a result of the pipeline’s operation. Working with a trespass lawyer will help you determine if you have a right to pursue trespass disgorgement damages if there is a company profiting off a pipeline that is on your land.

Billboard Trespassing

If you have a billboard on your land or are considering allowing a company to erect one, it is wise to make sure you are aware of your legal rights and that you consult with a trespass attorney to make sure your interests are protected. The main issue with billboard placements occurs when companies refuse to remove their billboards after the lease or easement expires. Billboards are often dug into the ground deeply, and can be a pain for companies to move—but that does not mean that you should be stuck with having a billboard on your land if you do not consent to it being there. Additionally, if the owner of the billboard still has advertisements running, they are likely still benefiting from the billboard by way of new business and increased income—meaning you may be able to file for trespass disgorgement damages as well. If you are faced with a billboard trespassing situation, it is important to contact a trespass lawyer as quickly as possible to set your case in motion.

Utility Line Trespassing

If you have a utility line running through your property, it may fall under California’s restitutionary statute Civil Code § 3334, which allows for trespass disgorgement damages if there is a company benefiting from trespassing on your property with their lines or equipment. The California Senate Judiciary Committee has found that there should be consequences for trespassers who “find it to their advantage to intentionally use another’s land, reap large benefits for that act, and then pay a relatively small amount of damages for the trespass,” which is in part why Civil Code § 3334 was established. 

While utility companies are able to create easements on land and often do, there are many reasons why these easements can fall through or expire, returning the rights of the land to the original landowner. If a company continues to use the land for utility lines or pipelines after the easement is nullified or expired, the owner can potentially file to disgorge the profits associated with the trespassing.

What is a Utility Easement?

A utility easement allows the utility company the right to use property owned by someone else. As an example, a utility company might set up an easement to place utility lines, utility poles, or buried/subsurface utilities and equipment on someone else’s land. Utility easements are typically created by conveying a deed, contract, or will, and requires the parties to agree on the terms and sign the paperwork. Easements may be created through prescriptive use as well in the event that a company trespasses on the land repeatedly and for a continuous period of time without objection of the owner. A utility easement will typically be created at the time a property was parceled out, so before making a land purchase, it is wise to investigate any existing easements that might be attached to the property.

While you can continue to use the land as normal if there is an easement on it, you cannot do anything that would interfere with the utility easement has been established. For example, if there were buried/subsurface equipment lines running through the property, you could still build a house on top of them—but if that caused damage to the equipment, that would be your responsibility.

If there is a utility easement on your property, you may have the option to terminate it. If the utility company abandons their lines, if the easement expires, if the company purchases the property from you, or if the easement is misused, you may have grounds for easement termination.

If the easement has been terminated and the utility company is still making use of your land, you can file a claim with the help of a trespass lawyer for trespass restitution damages. Additionally, if they are abusing their easement rights, you can also work with a trespass lawyer to file for trespass benefits obtained damages to disgorge their profits from your land and stand up for your rights.

Subsurface Trespass With Buried or Underground Utilities

While the idea of subsurface trespass is a fairly new one, for any landowner with subsurface resources on their property, it is an important one indeed. If a company plans to drill, dig, or otherwise utilize any part of the subsurface of your land, it is important that you know your rights regarding that so you can be protected. Digging and drilling can be extremely invasive, limit your own use of your land, and cause permanent damage to the property—all instances that allow you grounds for trespass restitution damages in court. If the company is doing all of this without a good easement, the owners of the land may be able to disgorge them of their profits. To understand more about your rights as they pertain to subsurface or underground utilities, contact a qualified trespass attorney.

Agricultural Trespassing

If you are the owner of agricultural land, you might be familiar with the growing problem of agricultural trespass. While people trespassing on agricultural lands is a big problem, those who own any agricultural land “under cultivation or intended or used for the raising of livestock” have special protections against trespassers under California law. In fact, if someone trespasses on agricultural land and causes damages, the landowner may be able to pursue damages that cover their legal fees from the trespasser in addition to other damages, which is rarely awarded in California. If you have invested time, money, and work into your agricultural land, it is important that you protect it from trespassers and pursue a case against anyone who damages your property to ensure it does not happen again.

Benefits Obtained From Trespassing

If someone benefits from trespassing on your land, the damages you can pursue are often even greater than if damages were the sole result of the trespass. For example, if an oil company has a subsurface pipeline running through your property without the proper easement that they are actively profiting off of, you may be eligible to pursue some of these profits as they directly benefited from your land for them to occur. If oil, gas, or utility companies are benefiting off of subsurface equipment that runs through your land, it is wise to chat with a trespass attorney regarding your rights under California Civil Code § 3334 so you can get the maximum amount of damages possible.

Trespassing Restitution

If there was a direct loss associated with someone trespassing on your property, you may be able to file for trespassing restitution as part of your claim. Any expense or loss that was associated with the trespass may be eligible for trespass restitution, so it is important to document every impact that the trespassing had on you and your land in case they are relevant to your case.

As with other trespass damages, for trespass restitution you will be required to detail the nature of the losses and costs incurred and the judge or jury will make a decision regarding a final amount that will cover all of your expenditures that the trespass incident caused. This can include direct damage to your property that you had to pay to repair, medical costs incurred due to physical injury that was a result of the trespassing, or a loss of income or other profits from the property that were directly related to the trespass incident.

What is Unjust Enrichment?

Legally, unjust enrichment is described as one person being enriched at the expense of another in unjust circumstances. As it pertains to trespassing, this would involve the enrichment coming from the illegal use of the land (trespassing), whether it is simply by taking up space or actively profiting while causing damages. Unjust enrichment is common with breach of contract lawsuits, which can also occur during trespass lawsuits if the company in question is still continuing to use the land in spite of an expired easement for the property. If a company is trespassing on your land and receiving benefits or profits for doing so, you may be able to claim unjust enrichment with the help of a trespassing lawyer to receive damages and compensation.

Learn about your trespass litigation options when you schedule a consultation. Send us an email or call 714-641-1232 to speak with us in Costa Mesa or 831-272-6676 to speak with us in Salinas.

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