Homeowners and other owners of property can be held liable for injuries suffered by children, when certain objects or conditions on the property have the potential to entice children. This is true even if the child is a trespasser. This kind of liability comes from a legal concept known as the "attractive nuisance" doctrine. In this article, we'll explain what an "attractive nuisance" is, and offer some suggestions on how homeowners can protect themselves from liability while protecting child visitors from injury.
One of the most basic examples of an attractive nuisance is a swimming pool. Water can be enticing, and the dangers that come with it aren't always apparent to a child.
Other examples of "attractive nuisance" are fairly obvious, such as trampolines, slides and swing sets. But other examples aren't as obvious. Children can be drawn to property by things like stacks of spare lumber, piles of bricks, or power tools that have been left lying around. Sometimes even objects we're not using, such as old refrigerators, may entice children and cause them to be injured.
Protecting neighborhood kids isn't only the right thing to do -- it also protects you. The law requires you to take reasonable steps to eliminate the risks associated with attractive nuisances. "No Trespassing," "Warning," or "Caution" signs are always a good place to start. However, sometimes they are not enough to alleviate risks, especially when a child visitor (or trespasser) is not old enough to read. Including a picture on the sign may help.
But property owners must go above and beyond this. If your yard is not fenced in, building a small fence or enclosure for a swimming pool is a good idea. The fence should be locked to prevent trespassers from accessing it. The pool should be kept covered if it is reasonable to do so.
If an object is too large to be stored when not in use, such as a trampoline or swing set, you should try to block access to it and definitely use a warning sign with a clear picture on it as well. Trampolines in particular can cause serious injuries, when children bounce too high and land on them the wrong way.
Store objects, such as power tools, when they aren't being used. If the tools are too large or cumbersome to move, at least be sure they are turned off and unplugged, that there are guards on blades and other sharp edges, and that you've taken any other reasonable precautions.
If you have objects like old refrigerators or wood piles, store them in your shed or elsewhere so that children aren't tempted to play in and around them. For appliances like refrigerators and washing machines that are not in use, get rid of them, or at least remove the doors to ensure kids don't crawl inside and get stuck.
Finally, although "attractive nuisance" is a doctrine that is intended to cover child trespassers, you should also remember that if you hold a gathering and invite children to come and play on your property, you are responsible for taking reasonable care to ensure their safety. Make sure there is adequate supervision, especially around things like pools. Taking these simple steps can make all the difference, not just for the well-being of the children near you, but for your peace of mind (not to mention your legal liability if something goes wrong).