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Updated: May 6, 2020

What are the signs you are not welcome to run on private property? Look for the signs.

A sign that says “no trespassing” or “keep out” means what it says. Generally, property owners have the legal right to exclude runners and others from their property. But the landowners need to take steps to let us know we are not welcome there. Posting signs and putting up fences are the most-common methods.

Signs that merely label property as private without issuing a directive to keep out present runners with a dilemma. We might be welcome there or might not. We need to be open to the possibility the property owner does not want us there and be prepared to leave if asked to do so.

Signs that prohibit certain activities such as bicycle riding or roller blading, but do not specifically say running is off-limits, raise even more legal uncertainties. Generally, if walking is allowed, running probably is too. That being said, runners still should be prepared to leave a privately owned area if asked to do so.

How about in places where there are no signs or fences and we are not sure whether the land is public or private? Runners can keep in mind the core legal principle that usually we cannot be guilty of a crime without knowing we are doing something wrong. The principle applies to the crime of trespassing.

Criminal liability arises when intruders ignore requests to leave private property. Therefore, runners need to be prepared to obey lawful directives in those instances.

For example, Minnesota’s criminal trespassing statute says:

A person is guilty of a misdemeanor if the person intentionally … trespasses on the premises of another and, without claim of right, refuses to depart from the premises on demand of the lawful possessor.

The statute goes on to single out cemeteries, mining sites, and construction sites as places where we run the risk of becoming trespassers. Runners need to be especially careful of intruding into those areas. Still, there must be signs to let us know we are not welcome.

Entering a public or private cemetery in Minnesota during the hours it is posted as being closed to the public is a misdemeanor. Minnesota law even regulates the size and numbers of signs required at mining and construction sites. For the latter, the statute requires a sign of at least 8.5 inches by 11 inches “in a conspicuous place within the area being protected.” The law continues:

If the area being protected is less than three acres, one additional sign must be conspicuously placed within that area. If the area being protected is three acres but less than ten acres, two additional signs must be conspicuously placed within that area. For each additional full ten acres of area being protected beyond the first ten acres of area, two additional signs must be conspicuously placed within the area being protected. The sign must carry a general notice warning against trespass.

The bottom line is runners should not ignore signs they are not welcome on private property when exploring new routes and areas.

Amazon: The Law of Running: A Runner's Guide to Legal Rights

(Photos: Steve Aggergaard)

Podcast: Am I Trespassing While Running? Look for the Signs

The Law of Running is written by Steve Aggergaard, It is not legal advice. The laws are different in every state and municipality, so if you need legal help reach out to a lawyer in your area who knows the applicable laws and is in the best position to help you in your particular situation.

Updated: May 2, 2020

Unleashed dogs present a danger to runners in cities, suburbs, parks, and rural areas. With many of us exploring new areas for running during these weeks of social distancing, it is worth considering the laws that apply when runners are bit or otherwise injured by dogs.

The laws vary by state and municipality, but in general they require dog owners to keep control of their dogs. The laws are heavily slanted toward compensating runners and others who are injured by unleashed dogs.

Injuries include but might not be limited to dog bites. Getting injured while running from an unrestrained dog might count.

Some laws compensate dog-attack victims under the legal concept of strict liability, which imposes legal liability without regard to fault or whether someone intended to cause harm. In states with strict-liability statutes, dog owners are required to keep their pets controlled at all times. The argument that “my dog has never bitten anyone before” or “she’s so loving at home” does not work.

Nor does an explanation that an "invisible fence," which delivers a mild electric shock to a dog when the pet strays too far, did not work. When it comes to strict-liability laws, "I tried" is not a valid excuse.

But there is a catch. Generally, the laws do not apply if the victim provoked the dog or was trespassing.

Is the act of running “provocation”? The law is not clear, but some courts have determined the answer is no. The law is clearer when it comes to trespassing. Runners who are on private property without permission risk being faulted for their own injuries if they are attacked by dogs.

Therefore, as you explore new routes during these days of social distancing, watch out for private property. Not knowing property was private might not be a valid excuse.

Further, not all states have strict-liability statutes. [ maintains a helpful summary of all states' dog-attack laws.] But all states have the law of negligence, which requires dog owners to act reasonably by following leash laws. Not acting reasonably can trigger legal liability.

One example of unreasonable behavior is breaking a leash law by letting a pet run free. Such evidence can be very persuasive in dog-bite cases, which sometimes become matters for the criminal law.

That was the situation more than 30 years ago in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where a 20-year-old runner was killed by an unleashed dog. The case wound itself through the state's courts system, landing in the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1994. As the court explained in State v. Powell:

The evidence presented at trial tended to show that on 20 October 1989, Hoke Lane Prevette, a five-foot, one and one-half inch, ninety-four pound jogger, was attacked by defendant's dogs and died as a result of multiple dog bites. The dogs were away from defendant's property and had been loose earlier that day.

Powell, the dog owner, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, a felony offense punishable by several years in prison. The legal basis for the conviction was the owner violated a Winston-Salem ordinance, which provided:

No dog shall be left unattended outdoors unless it is restrained and restricted to the owner's property by a tether, rope, chain, fence or other device. Fencing, as required herein, shall be adequate in height, construction and placement to keep resident dogs on the lot, and keep other dogs and children from accessing the lot. One (1) or more secured gates to the lot shall be provided.

Prison sentences do nothing to compensate families in these situations. Civil lawsuits are the legal tools for that. Still, no runner wants to be in that position.

Not getting in that position in the first place is a runner’s best defense. Experts advise not staring at the dog. Use an even-pitched voice to avoid triggering the animal’s fight response. “Be boring,” an article in Runner’s World suggests. “If the dog approaches you, stop and stand very still. The more boring you are, the less you’ll interest the dog.”

If an attack is imminent, the law’s limitations on using force against a human attacker do not apply as long as the runner is not trespassing. Because the dog’s owner has failed to protect us from the dangerous property, and because we are in a place where we have a right to be, we likely are within our rights to protect ourselves with pepper spray, a weapon, or otherwise.

But no right to self-defense is absolute. And as any dog owner knows, they often are treated as members of the family. The more steps runners take to protect themselves when faced with potentially dangerous dogs, the less chance the runner will be accused of provoking the animal or doing something else that shift blame from the dog’s owner to the runner.

Amazon: The Law of Running: A Runner's Guide to Legal Rights

Podcast: Episode 5: Runner vs. Dog: What the Laws Say

(Photo: Steve Aggergaard)

The Law of Running is not legal advice. The laws are different in every state and municipality, so if you need legal help reach out to a lawyer in your area who knows the applicable laws and is in the best position to help you in your particular situation.

City officials in two densely populated cities outside Boston have issued orders requiring pedestrians to wear masks, and runners fall within the scope.

The order in Cambridge, Massachusetts requires persons 5 and older to wear masks in areas “open and accessible to the general public.” Sidewalks and streets are singled out as places where masks are required.

The order in Somerville, Massachusetts applies to persons 2 and older. It also singles out sidewalks and streets in addition to public squares and paths.

Runners are not mentioned by name as being subject to the orders, but there is little question we are. In both cities, violators are subject to a $300 fine. The orders took effect Wednesday, but the Cambridge order states enforcement will not begin until May 5. A city official told WBUR in Boston the Somerville order also will be subject to a one-week grace period.

The order in Somerville justifies the restriction on grounds “the City of Somerville is a densely populated city, making it difficult to maintain six feet of distance between people at all times in public space.”

Do the communities have authority to require masks? Based on Massachusetts legal authority dating to the 1700s, the answer appears to be yes.

Massachusetts General Laws chapter 111 section 104, first enacted in 1792 and last amended in 1938, states:

If a disease dangerous to the public health exists in a town, the selectmen and board of health shall use all possible care to prevent the spread of the infection and may give public notice of infected places by such means as in their judgment may be most effectual for the common safety. Whoever obstructs the selectmen, board of health or its agent in using such means, or whoever wilfully and without authority removes, obliterates, defaces or handles such public notices which have been posted, shall forfeit not less than ten nor more than one hundred dollars.

A Massachusetts Health Department regulation states:

Whenever an emergency exists in which the interest of protecting the public health requires that ordinary procedures be dispensed with, the board of health or its authorized agent, acting in accordance with the provisions of M.G.L. c. 111, § 30, may, without notice or hearing, issue an order reciting the existence of the emergency and requiring that such action be taken as the board of health deems necessary to meet the emergency.

The order in Cambridge provides a short window for appealing a ticket:

The person to whom a violation notice has been issued pursuant to this Emergency Order may request a hearing before the Cambridge Commissioner of Public Health or his designee by filing with the Cambridge Public Health Commission within seven days after the date of the violation notice was served, a written petition requesting a hearing on the matter.

The Somerville order specifies no method of appeal, but the same seven-day period would appear to apply.

These orders, unlike ones that have taken effect in California recently, do not single out runners on the theory we expel airborne particles with more-dangerous velocity. Rather, the orders apply to all pedestrians and are less-open to criticism.

Population density is another factor. According to WBUR: "Somerville is the most densely populated city in New England, with 80,000 residents in 4.1 square miles. City officials say that makes protective measures like this more critical."

Amazon: The Law of Running: A Runner's Guide to Legal Rights

(Photo: Google)

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