There are a number of home features that can enhance your property and even add to its value. But in some cases, the feature you add could constitute an attractive nuisance, and that could open you up to a world of liability. You might, for example, opt to install a swimming pool in your backyard or put in a playset for your children to climb on. While these are common additions to a yard, they come with responsibilities you should be aware of.
What is an attractive nuisance?
An attractive nuisance is anything on your property that attracts outside children but also exposes them to potential harm. By having an attractive nuisance on your property, you open yourself up to issues with premises liability -- a concept that comes into play in personal injury law.
Examples of an attractive nuisance
There are different features you might have on your property with the potential to cause injury to a trespassing child. Typical attractive nuisances include, but aren't limited to:
- Swimming pools
- Tree houses
- Fountains or other water features
Non-permanent items can, in some cases, be considered an attractive nuisance as well. For example, leaving a ride-on lawnmower unattended in your yard could open you up to liability if it leads to a child's injury. The same holds true for a ladder you might leave propped up against the side of your home while you take a break from a repair project.
What's not considered an attractive nuisance?
Because children, unfortunately, have the potential to get injured under all kinds of circumstances, the definition of an attractive nuisance could be quite broad in theory. What if your children are playing baseball in your yard when one has to run inside to use the bathroom and leaves his bat outdoors? A child passing by your home could see that bat, run over, pick it up, and whack himself with it, thereby causing serious bodily harm. Are you then liable as a homeowner? In that case, generally not. Similarly, if a child trespasses onto your property, climbs one of your trees, and gets hurt falling out of it, that tree isn't considered an attractive nuisance.
The concept of attractive nuisances applies to scenarios where you, as a homeowner, fail to take reasonable action to make your property safer, knowing full well that there's a feature on it that could draw in outside children and also pose a danger. Could a tree pose a danger? Sure. But it's also not reasonable to expect a homeowner to put up barriers so outsiders can't reach that tree. On the other hand, it's more reasonable to put up a barrier so that an open swimming pool can't be accessed by a wandering child.
Why are homeowners liable when children trespass onto their property?
Normally, homeowners aren't held liable when a trespasser gets injured on their property. But the attractive nuisance doctrine makes an exception specifically for children. As such, homeowners are expected to take steps to protect child trespassers who may get injured on the premises due to an attractive nuisance. Keep in mind that while attractive nuisance law is designed to protect younger children, the definition of a young child can vary from state to state. Generally, the law applies to children age 12 and under, but there are exceptions.
Will an attractive nuisance raise my homeowners insurance?
If you have an attractive nuisance on your property, there's a good chance your homeowners insurance premiums will rise. For example, if you put in a pool that isn't fenced in, your premium costs could climb because your insurance company is now taking on the risk that a serious injury could occur because of it. On the other hand, if you take reasonable steps to limit the chances of winding up with an injured child on your property, your insurance costs may not climb as much.
How can I protect myself from liability?
As a property owner, there are a number of reasonable precautions you can take to protect yourself from an attractive nuisance lawsuit. First, you can fence in your property so that trespassing becomes much more difficult for curious children. That way, if there's a pool or trampoline in your backyard, a child passing by may not even know that it's there. If you don't wish to fence in your entire yard, you can look at putting up a fence just around the structures that pose the potential for danger.
There are specific precautions you should take if you're a property owner with a pool. In addition to a fence, you can install an alarm system or lights around your pool, keep water- rescue equipment on hand in case a trespasser does fall in, and store pool chemicals out of reach of someone who might come onto your property. Incidentally, these are all good practices to protect your own family from harm.
While you can put up signs warning trespassers to keep off your property, if an injury does occur and you find yourself on the wrong end of an attractive nuisance liability lawsuit, that defense alone may not hold up in court. On the other hand, if you can prove that you took reasonable measures to hide your attractive nuisance or keep trespassers from accessing it, there's a good chance you won't be held responsible for an incident that results in injury on your property.
Of course, if you're really worried about an attractive nuisance, you can always seek out legal advice to determine the best course of action. And if you buy a home with an attractive nuisance already on it, you can always have that feature removed if you don't actually want it there for your own use. For example, if you're not keen on swimming, why have a pool taking up space on your property while also exposing you to liability?
Attractive nuisance laws can vary from state to state, and they can certainly be confusing. As a property owner, your takeaway should be that it's your responsibility to take reasonable care to prevent injuries on your property, and that extends to child trespassers. If you follow that general guideline, there's a good chance you'll get to enjoy your home's various features without worry.