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Backyard swimming pools and trampolines can make your home much more fun, but they can also open you up to liability. Both can be examples of “attractive nuisances,” tempting but potentially dangerous home features that you can be held responsible for if someone injures themselves on your property.
Here’s what you need to know about attractive nuisances and how you can protect yourself from liability if you have them at your home:
- What is an attractive nuisance?
- What are some examples of an attractive nuisance?
- What is the attractive nuisance doctrine?
- Non-maintained attracted nuisances
- Apparent dangers
- How can I protect myself from liability?
- How does an attractive nuisance impact my premium?
What is an attractive nuisance?
An attractive nuisance is something that could attract a child to come onto your property — and also pose a danger to them. In this case, it’s your responsibility as a property owner to make the situation safe, or to prevent children from wandering in and hurting themselves. This is the case even if the children are technically trespassing, and you didn’t invite them to your property.
The law says you have a duty to prevent children from accessing the dangerous home feature, or to make it safe. You should also maintain homeowners insurance coverage to protect yourself from legal risk.
What are some examples of an attractive nuisance?
Common attractive nuisances include:
- Swimming pools: Children run the risk of drowning, especially if they sneak into a pool unsupervised.
- Trampolines: While these are intended for children, using a trampoline can potentially lead to injuries.
- Discarded refrigerators or iceboxes: Children may be tempted to climb inside and get trapped.
- Holes or piles of sand and dirt: These can be unstable, and children could become trapped inside if the dirt or sand shifts.
- Abandoned cars: Like old refrigerators, children could be tempted to climb inside and may hurt themselves.
- Construction sites: Construction sites are full of potential dangers, including holes in flooring, discarded nails and screws, and unprotected landings.
What is the attractive nuisance doctrine?
The attractive nuisance doctrine is a legal framework that holds landowners responsible if a child injures themselves after being drawn to an unsafe feature on the property. A child’s parent or guardian can sue you as the property owner if they prove that you didn’t take the proper steps to keep children from accessing the unsafe area, or for not adequately preventing injury.
Under this doctrine, children who wander onto your property due to an attractive nuisance are treated as if they were invited, rather than trespassing. That means you have a higher level of responsibility to make your property conditions safe.
States handle these situations differently, depending on their laws. However, in general, you can be legally liable if a child injures themselves on your property under the attractive nuisance doctrine if:
- You know or are likely to know that children may trespass on your property (e.g., you have a pool with a slide or a tree house in your yard).
- You know or are likely to know that the nuisance can pose a danger to children.
- Children don’t immediately realize the danger they could face.
- The burden of getting rid of or fixing the nuisance is less than the danger posed.
- You don’t take reasonable precautions to prevent children from hurting themselves on your property.
Non-maintained attracted nuisances
In general, the attractive nuisance only applies if the unsafe condition is man-made. In most cases, natural features on a property like a pond, lake, cliff, or hill don’t open you up to liability if a trespasser gets injured.
However, even natural features like a lake, pond, or stream can become an attractive nuisance in some situations. For example, if a pond on your property becomes a well-known gathering spot for children, you can become liable if you don’t take care to make the area safe.
Another exception to the attractive nuisance doctrine is when the unsafe condition is plainly and obviously dangerous. In this case, you likely won’t be held liable if a trespasser injures themselves while on your land. That’s because one of the key features of an attractive nuisance is that the child trespasser doesn’t immediately understand that the area is dangerous.
How can I protect myself from liability?
Regardless of your situation, you can take steps to protect yourself from liability due to an attractive nuisance. In many cases, they’re simply common-sense solutions. Here are a few to consider:
- Remove the nuisance. The simplest way to avoid liability from an attractive nuisance is to get rid of it. In some cases, this is the easiest and best solution. Don’t store abandoned vehicles on your property; consider donating vehicles to a nonprofit instead. Make sure old refrigerators or iceboxes are properly disposed of — don’t leave them on your property for any length of time. Your city may pick up bulky items, or you can hire a company to haul them off for you — often for free.
- Prevent children from wandering in. Something as simple as a fence with a locked or self-closing gate can be enough to protect children from entering a pool unsupervised — and protect you from liability. When the pool isn’t in use, a rigid pool cover can also help prevent children from falling into the water.
- Take reasonable precautions. Keep your property tidy and orderly. Don’t leave things like ladders or tools around your yard that may tempt a neighbor child. Put away inflatable pools when not in use, and keep pool toys stowed away. If construction is underway, make sure that the contractors take safety measures throughout the process to block access to dangerous areas, and clean up nails and other sharp objects daily.
- Ensure proper installation. Play equipment like swing sets should meet safety protocols, including railings and distances between swings. Tree houses should have sturdy wooden ladders, and pools should have all required safety equipment in their proper places.
- Don’t rely on signs. You may be tempted to post a “Keep Out” or “Warning” sign and call it a day. However, signs generally aren’t enough to protect yourself from liability under the attractive nuisance doctrine. In most states, attractive nuisance rules are in place to protect young children who can’t be expected to be able to read signs, no matter how well-placed.
- Maintain homeowners insurance. Standard homeowners insurance policies include personal liability coverage, which will help pay for your defense and judgments against you if someone sues you. However, make sure to read your insurance policy carefully and take extra care that you meet the terms of the contract. You may face liability if you don’t take reasonable steps to make your property safe.
How does an attractive nuisance impact my premium?
In many cases, a potential attractive nuisance like a swimming pool or trampoline on your property can increase your homeowners insurance premium. An insurer may even deny you from getting an insurance policy, depending on the nature of what you have at your home, or deny your claims if you don’t have proper safety measures in place.
When shopping for a policy, the topic will likely come up. It’s vital that you’re honest about any potential attractive nuisances you have. Failing to disclose an attractive nuisance on your property is known as concealment, and your insurance carrier won’t cover you if someone injures themselves due to an attractive nuisance the insurer didn’t know you had. Consider speaking to an insurance agent to make sure that you have adequate coverage.
Learn More: What Is Concealment in Insurance?