Trespass “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “trespass” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:





A misfeasance, transgression, or offense which damages another’s person, health, reputation, or property [Cox v. Strickland, 120 Ga 104, 47 SE 912]. In the widest application of the term, any transgression or offense against the laws of nature or society whether relating to person or property [Grunson v. State, 89 Ind 533]. The equivalent of tort or wrong [Bichenor v. Hayes, 41 NJL 193]. An unauthorized entry on another’s property [Holler v. New York, N.H. & H.R. Co. (CA2 NY) 265 F 192, 17 ALR 823, 825]. A common-law form of action which lies for the recovery of damages inflicted by the direct application of force. An action which lies whenever an injury is the immediate result of the force originally applied by the defendant, and the plaintiff is injured thereby [52 Am J1st Tresp § 2].

In its widest signification, trespass means any violation of law. In its most restricted sense, it signifies an injury intentionally inflicted by force either on the person or property of another. But still has a signification in law much more narrow than the first, and more enlarged than the second meaning given, and embraces all cases where injury is done to the person or to property, and is the indirect result of wrongful force [Hill v. Kimball, 76 Tex 210, 13 SW 59].



  1. An unlawful act committed with violence, ti et armis, to the person, property or relative rights of another. Every felony includes a trespass, in common parlance, such acts are not in general considered as trespasses, yet they subject the offender to an action of trespass after his conviction or acquittal (see civil remedy).

  2. There is another kind of trespass, which is committed without force, and is known by the name of trespass on the case. This is not generally known by the name of trespass (see CASE).

  3. The following rules characterize the injuries which are denominated trespasses, namely: To determine whether an injury is a trespass, due regard must be had to the nature of the right affected. A wrong with force can only be offered to the absolute rights of personal liberty and security, and to those of property corporeal; those of health, reputation and in property incorporeal, together with the relative rights of persons, are, strictly speaking, incapable of being injured with violence, because the subject matter to which they relate, exists in either case only in idea, and is not to be seen or handled. An exception to this rule, however, often obtains in the very instance of injuries to the relative rights of persons; and wrongs offered to these last are frequently denominated trespasses, that is injuries with force.

  4. Those wrongs alone are characterized as trespasses the immediate consequences of which are injurious to the plaintiff; if the damage sustained is a remote consequence of the act, the injury falls under the denomination of trespass on the case.

  5. No act is injurious but that which is unlawful; and therefore, where the force applied to the plaintiff’s property or person is the act of the law itself, it constitutes no cause of complaint [Hamm. N. P. 34; 2 Pbil. Ev. 131; Bac. Abr. h. t.; 15 East R. 614; Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t.; as to what will justify a trespass, see BATTERY].


Any misfeasance or act of one man whereby another is injuriously treated or damnified [3 Bl. Comm. 208].

An injury or misfeasance to the person, property, or rights of another person, done with force and violence, either actual or implied in law [see Grunson v. State, 89 Ind. 536, 46 Am. Rep. 178; Southern Ry. Co. v. Harden, 101 Ga. 263, 28 S. E. 847; Blood v. Kemp, 4 Pick. (Mass.) 173l Toledo, etc., R. Co. v. McLaughlin, 63 Ill. 391; Agnew v. Jones, 74 Miss. 347, 23 South. 25; Hill v. Kimball, 76 Tex. 210, 13 S. W. 59, 7 L. R. A. 618].

In the strictest sense, an entry on another’s ground, without a lawful authority, and doing some damage, however inconsiderable, to his real property [3 Bl. Comm. 209].

  • Trespass, in its most comprehensive sense,

In practice: a form of action, at the common law, which lies for redress in the shape of money damages for any unlawful injury done to the plaintiff, in respect either to his person, property, or rights, by the immediate force and violence of the defendant.

  • Continuing trespass: one which does not consist of a single isolated act but is in its nature a permanent invasion of the rights of another; as, where a person builds his own land so that a part of the building overhangs his neighbor’s land.

  • Permanent trespass: one which consists of a series of acts, done on successive days, which are of the same nature, and are renewed or continued form day to day, so that, in the aggregate, they make up one indivisible wrong [3 Bl. Comm. 212].

  • Trespass de bonis asportatis: (trespass for goods carried away) in practice; the technical name of that species of action of trespass for injuries to personal property which lies where the injury consists in carrying away the goods or property [see 3 Bl. Comm. 150].

  • Trespass for mesne profits: a form of action supplemental to an action of ejectment, brought against the tenant in possession to recover the profits which he has wrongfully received during the time of his occupation [3 Bl. Comm. 205].

  • Tresspass on the case: the form of action, at common law, adapted to the recovery of damages for some injury resulting to a party from the wrongful act of another, unaccompanied by direct or immediate force, or which is the indirect or secondary consequence of such act. Common called, by abbreviation, “case.” [see Munal v. Brown (C. C.) 70 Fed. 968; Nolan v. Railroad Co., 70 Conn. 159, 39 Atl. 115, 43 L. R. A. 305; Christian v. Mills, 2 Walk. (Pa.) 131].

  • Trespass quare clausum fregit: (trespass wherefore he broke the close) the common-law action for damages for an unlawful entry or trespass upon the plaintiff’s laud. In the Latin form of the writ, the defendant was called upon to show why he broke the plaintiff’s close; i.e. the real or imaginary structure inclosing the land, whence the name. It is commonly abbreviated to “trespass qu. cl. fr.” [see Kimball v. Hilton, 92 Me. 214, 42 Atl. 394].

  • Trespass to try title: the name of the action used in several of the states for the recovery of the possession of real property, with damages for any trespass committed upon the same by the defendant.

  • Trespass vi et armis: trespass with force and arms. The common-law action for damages for any injury committed by the defendant with direct and immediate force or violence against the plaintiff or his property.


TRES’PASS, v.i. [L. trans, beyond, and passer, to pass.]

1. Literally, to pass beyond; hence primarily, to pass over the boundary line of another’s land; to enter unlawfully upon the land of another. A man may trespass by walking over the ground of another, and the law gives a remedy for damages sustained.
2. To commit any offense or to do any act that injures or annoys another; to violate any rule of rectitude to the injury of another.
If any man shall trespass against his neighbor, and an oath be laid upon him– 1 Kings 8. See Luke 17. 3. and 4.
3. In a moral sense, to transgress voluntarily any divine law or command; to violate any known rule of duty.
In the time of his disease did he trespass yet more. 2 Chron.28.
We have trespassed against our God. Ezra 10.
4. To intrude; to go too far; to put to inconvenience by demand or importunity; as, to trespass upon the time or patience of another.

TRES’PASS, n. In law, violation of another’s rights, not amounting to treason, felony, or misprision of either. Thus to enter another’s close, is a trespass; to attack his person is a trespass. When violence accompanies the act, it is called a trespass vi et armis.

1. Any injury or offense done to another.
If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matt.6.
2. Any voluntary transgression of the moral law; any violation of a known rule of duty; sin. Col.2.
You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Eph.2.
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