What Is The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine?

If you recently sustained losses in an accident on someone else’s property, you may have grounds for a premises liability claim. The rules governing premises liability vary from state to state, but all states hold that an injured party can collect damages if the following apply:

  • The owner knew (or should have known) about a defective or dangerous condition on his or her property
  • He or she did nothing to fix the dangerous condition or warn of its risk
  • You sustained injuries as a result of the dangerous or defective condition
  • You had a legal right to be there

Most states classify individuals on a property as either invitees or trespassers. Invitees have a legal right to be on someone’s property, whether through express or implied invitation. You might be an invitee if you’re visiting a business during normal hours, exploring a park while it’s open to the public, or visiting a friend’s or neighbor’s house. Trespassers, on the other hand, do not have the legal right to be on someone else’s premises and cannot collect damages in a premises liability suit. There are some exceptions to this rule, however.

The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

The main exception to the trespassing rule is the “attractive nuisance doctrine.” It principally applies to children and holds that because of their youth and immaturity, many children do not understand or appreciate a risk or danger on someone else’s property.

Under the attractive nuisance doctrine, a property owner may be liable for damages a child sustains while trespassing on his or her land, provided that something on the property is attractive to a child who is incapable of understanding its inherent dangers. The attractive nuisance doctrine most often comes into play with swimming pools, but may also apply to abandoned cars, old refrigerators, open pits, and more. The doctrine dictates that landowners must exercise reasonable care in safeguarding children from these hazards. Swimming pools must have fences with locking doors, for example.

Relevant Case History

The attractive nuisance doctrine was established in 1874 in Railroad Company v. Stout US 657. In this case, a child sustained injuries not from a swimming pool, but while playing with an unlocked, unguarded railroad turntable. The courts held that the railroad company was responsible for the child’s injuries because even though he was a trespasser, the railroad company knew that children were playing with the turntable, which was enough to establish liability.

The courts established the attractive nuisance doctrine based on the theory that something that attracts children to a premises is the equivalent of an invitation. As such, the owner has a duty to protect a child against the inherent danger on the property.

In order to pursue a premises liability case under the attractive nuisance doctrine, all the following must apply:

  • That a dangerous condition existed that is likely to cause injury in and of itself (e.g., swimming pools are inherently dangerous to children)
  • This feature or condition is attractive to young children
  • The injured party was incapable, either by age or maturity, of comprehending the risk of the attractive nuisance
  • The dangerous feature was unguarded, or easy to access
  • The child’s injuries could have been reasonably preventable by restricting access

Property owners owe a duty of care to children, even if they are trespassing. Those who have an “attractive nuisance” on their premises must use reasonable measures to protect it from the curiosity of children. If your child recently sustained injuries on someone else’s property, you may be able to collect damages for medical bills and other expenses. Contact the attorneys at Larry R. Williams, PLLC for further guidance.