Dangers to Children: What Is an Attractive Nuisance?
An "attractive nuisance" is something on your property that draws children in and may look inviting but can actually cause injury. These are often premises liability issues. Premises liability occurs when you allow a dangerous condition to exist on your property.
The law places a special responsibility on property owners to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of harm to children who may come on their property. This duty is generally called the "attractive nuisance doctrine."
Typically, the attractive nuisance doctrine has three components:
- The law doesn't expect children to fully comprehend the potential dangers they may face.
- The law places a special responsibility on property owners to prevent harm that might occur on their property.
- If you fail to meet this responsibility, you may be held liable for injuries that ensue, especially for any children involved.
Are Children on Your Property Trespassing?
Trespassing children are minors that come onto your property uninvited. However, the law may punish you if they get hurt, instead of treating the minor as a trespasser. This is because minors tend to get special care under the law.
Child trespassers on a landowner's property can be frustrating. If they get hurt from an artificial condition on your land, you can be the one in trouble. An artificial condition is anything unnatural that has been added to the land, such as a fence or a building. The law treats trespassing children the same as invitees on your property. If you discover kids on your property, you must provide "reasonable care."
To do this, you should immediately:
- Fence or enclose your property to deter children from entering.
- Ask them to leave and post "no trespassing" signs on your property.
- Obey your local, municipal, and state ordinances.
How Can I Tell What's a Common Attractive Nuisance?
An attractive nuisance is something interesting that would entice a child to trespass on your property. Although this may sound very broad, most courts limit this considerably.
Many courts require that the object be man-made, and many require that you "maintain" the nuisance to be liable. Examples of attractive nuisances can include an old refrigerator sitting on your curb or a spool of barbed wire on your lawn.
Non-Maintained Attractive Nuisances (Not Liable)
Non-maintained items that are not legally attractive nuisances include:
- Ponds and lakes.
- Cliffs and hills.
- Small things that can be choking hazards (acorns, sticks, etc.).
- Carbon monoxide poisoning in a house or shed.
- Smoke inhalation (unless you do not have a working smoke alarm).
You should review your local, municipal, and state statutes and take reasonable precautions to keep your property in code and defend yourself against possible liability.
Apparent Dangers (Not Liable)
Most courts understand that small children can hurt themselves on virtually anything. If a child is too young to understand these risks, they should be supervised by a parent or guardian. The law generally presumes children understand some dangers, such as:
- Falling from a great height
- Open pits
- Touching fire
- Sharp objects
- Hot water
- Approaching a wild animal on your land
- Approaching an angry fenced or leashed animal (i.e., a bucking horse)
What Are Some Typical Attractive Nuisances?
Typical attractive nuisances that can make a homeowner responsible for injuries include:
- Swimming pools
- Machinery (lawnmowers, gasoline pumps, etc.)
- Dangerous animals
- Paths and stairs
- Landscaping and broken safety gates
- Scaffolding and ladders
Attractive nuisances can also take less obvious forms, such as a rooftop. You may be liable if:
- It's known that the local children climb onto roofs
- Your roof is easily accessible
- You've taken no steps to keep the children away
Each attractive nuisance case is carefully decided to determine liability. Outcomes can be hard to predict, so take extra precautions regarding attractive nuisances.
Who Is Protected from Attractive Nuisances?
What constitutes a "child" differs from court to court. Remember that teenagers or people under 18 may still be considered children in many courts. Attractive nuisance liability is not limited to very young children.
How Can I Protect Myself from Liability?
There are four main ways to protect yourself:
- Take precautions
- Follow local laws
- Use good judgment
- Consult with a real estate or personal injury attorney
Tips for Taking Precautions
You are never required to childproof your property. However, taking some basic actions to prevent injury goes a long way toward avoiding liability. Courts tend to punish people who didn't seem to care or put any effort into encouraging safety.
If you can list the steps you took to prevent injury, many courts will be satisfied, even if they didn't ultimately work. For example, these are some steps a pool owner could take to protect an incident from occurring:
- Building a fence around the pool
- Installing an alarm system or floodlights around your pool
- Keeping water rescue equipment nearby
- Owning a first-aid kit
- Inspecting the area for slip hazards
- Storing pool chemicals safely
Tips for Following Attractive Nuisance Laws
Read and follow your state and local laws. If they are confusing or hard to understand, you might consider consulting an attorney. Your insurance agent will usually have a list of potential items that may be attractive nuisances on your property and have advice for protecting yourself.
There are inevitably a host of local regulations that govern almost any potential attractive nuisance (such as pools). Showing a court that you were abiding by the local law can be decisive in most cases.
Tips for Good Judgment on Attractive Nuisances
Always use common sense and good judgment. You cannot be too careful about protecting yourself from blame.
If you see children interested in something on your property, that alone can trigger liability. People could prove that you were aware the children were interested. If you notice local kids showing interest in something, you can:
- Lock it up.
- Fence it up.
- Keep it in a shed.
- Post a "no trespassing" sign on your property and warn potential trespassers to stay away (i.e., "My horses are not friendly").
- Warn children's parents (i.e., "Please do not allow your kids to approach my dogs, they are not friendly to strangers").
You can also look out for children in your neighborhood by reporting any obvious dangers to the property owner and then the local authorities, if need be.
Signs Will Not Usually Protect You in Court
Warning or safety signs are helpful but generally won't save you by themselves. You must take steps to prevent the children from gaining access to an attractive nuisance.
Is There an Attractive Nuisance on Your Property? Get Legal Help Today
Children are particularly drawn to things like swimming pools, construction sites, tunnels, and other potential dangers.
If you forget to secure these types of items, and a neighboring child's curiosity leads to injury, you may be subject to legal action. If you have questions or concerns, consider speaking with a local real estate attorney. If you believe you or your child has suffered an injury due to an attractive nuisance, seek legal advice from a local personal injury lawyer.
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