This example is entirely fictional.

One morning whilst walking to my car, I notice that my elderly neighbour who lives alone is laid out on the floor of her living room.

I knock on the window, but get no response. I bang on the door, still no response.

Then I try the door, and the door is locked so required physical force to open. I kick the door in to find that my neighbour had fallen to sleep watching TV and her hearing aid had ran out of power.

Would I be liable for the damage as a concerned citizen?

  • I wonder - would you be liable even if she were in danger? If not - the law that says you wouldn't be in that case probably covers your case as well.
    – Patrick87
    Jan 26, 2016 at 14:07
  • Laws in the UK seem to be based on what a reasonable person would do, so I am hoping this is the case.
    – Terry
    Jan 26, 2016 at 14:52

1 Answer 1


Legally it depends on whether the jury believes you and on whether there is any specific common-law on point in the jurisdiction. Morally of course you are responsible for the damage.

Under traditional common-law principles, you would probably be guilty of trespass, an intentional tort.

Your first obvious argument would be that you had permission from the neighbor to check on them, if there is anything they've done that can be construed as consent. Whether that succeeds is a fact question, so it is up the the finder of fact to believe or disbelieve you.

Your second obvious argument would be your alleged trespass was necessary because of risk to human life. This might fail because you could have called police, but might not fail.

And if you do break into their home out of worry for them and they are fine, you really should be at least helping to fix any damage you do, and preferably (if you are financially able to) covering the cost of having a professional do it.

  • Good answer. Could you cite any references you used, please? It just makes the answer much more complete.
    – Terry
    Jan 26, 2016 at 15:19
  • General knowledge, first-year torts, criminal law, no particular sources. A particular jurisdiction's case law or codified law could also change the answer.
    – Tom
    Jan 26, 2016 at 18:47

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