Children have a natural propensity for curiosity and creativity. Their boundless energy and inclination to explore whatever is around them could present a unique challenge to you as a homeowner, however.
If your property contains what the law defines as attractive nuisances, you must take all appropriate measures to protect children in your neighborhood from harm. You can meet this important homeowner liability and minimize the risk of a child getting hurt or killed on your property by learning more about the attractive nuisance doctrine.
The law defines an attractive nuisance as something that attracts the curiosity and attention of children. Specifically, it must be something that is manmade as well as something that the property owner maintains on a regular basis.
With that, some of the most common attractive nuisances found on homeowners' properties include:
- swimming pools
- hot tubs
- machinery like riding lawn mowers or tractors
- pets and animals
They also include common fixtures like a rooftop that can easily be accessed by children who come onto the property.
Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
The attractive nuisance doctrine places the unique responsibility on homeowners of making their properties as uninviting and difficult to access as possible for children. In fact, is important to note that each state has its own definition for who is and is not recognized as children.
Some states say that adolescents 18 years and younger are legally defined as children. Other states lower the age to 16. To meet the homeowner liability requirements in your state, you should verify how the local court system defines children.
Nonetheless, the attractive nuisance doctrine says that children cannot fully understand dangers presented to them in fixtures that attract them to your property. Instead, the burden of protecting them falls to you as the homeowner.
In fact, if you believe that you have any fixture on your property that could appeal to children, you must take all preventative measures to restrict access to it. If a child gets hurt or is killed on your property as a result, you could face significant legal liabilities for the child's injuries or wrongful death.
However, the law does allow for a bit of proverbial wiggle room when it comes to the attractive nuisance doctrine. For instance, it recognizes that most children recognize basic dangers. Many kids know not to touch fire or to jump off the top of a house.
Second, the law says that an attractive nuisance must be manmade. As such, if you have a pond, lake, or stream on your property, you are not obligated to restrict its access since it is a naturally occurring fixture. If a child suffers an injury or drowns in one of these bodies of water, you as the property owner may not be found legally liable.
Even so, you still might take the appropriate measures to make every aspect of your property as unappealing and difficult to access as possible for children. You can find out how to accomplish this goal through several different means.
Restricting Access to an Attractive Nuisance
You can prevent injuries and accidents on your property by using several different methods to make an attractive nuisance off limits to children. Depending on what that nuisance is, you can start by building a fence around it.
A swimming pool, for example, can be kept off limits by a fence. Along with a fence, you can install an alarm system and locked gates to keep kids out of the pool area.
Likewise, a fence can be a great way to keep animals and pets away from children. Even if your pets are friendly to most strangers, you never know when they will snap and bite a child. A fence along with Beware of the Dog signs can go a long way in reducing your homeowner liability and protecting kids from danger.
You should use the same precaution if you own livestock. Fencing combined with No Trespassing signs can lower your liability in case of accidents.
Fixtures that you cannot fence off should be restricted either by locking or tying them up. Placing a chain around the tires and steering wheel of a riding lawn mower, for instance, or putting jacks on the wheels of a tractor can prevent a child from taking your machinery out for a joyride.
You should also report children on your property to their parents or to the police. If you allow them to roam freely without telling them to leave, you could be found responsible if they are injured while in your yard. Make a report each time you see them and keep a record of the kids' trespassing just in case on an accident.
Finally, you should be on the lookout for kids who appear interested in anything on your property. The simple fact of you being aware of their interest could make you liable if they get hurt or get killed because of an unguarded attractive nuisance.
If you are still not sure of how to deter children from coming onto your property, you should seek out immediate legal advice. You can speak with your homeowners insurance agent to find out what might constitute as an attractive nuisance, for example. After these fixtures are identified, you can then take the appropriate measures to restrict access to them.
You can also adjust your policy as needed to cover potential liability issues. For example, if you recently got a dog, you will need to inform your agent. Your insurance should be readjusted to protect you from being sued in case your dog bites a child in the neighborhood.
You should also consult an attorney who specializes in homeowners or property law. An attorney can help you come up with a solid plan of action for protecting yourself against liability issues.
Your lawyer can also help you take action in case you cannot convince children to stay off your property. You might have legal recourse against the children's parents or the homeowners association. You also may be able to defend yourself successfully against charges that you failed to take action to secure the liabilities in your yard.
As a homeowner, you have the right to have certain fixtures and luxuries on your property. Whether you build an in-ground swimming pool for you and your family to enjoy together or buy a riding lawn mower to mow the grass on your extensive property, you want the freedom to use and maintain these items without fear of legal repercussions.
Nonetheless, you cannot control the actions of children in the area who may be drawn to the things that you have on your property. Despite their curiosity, children are not legally responsible for their own actions. You have the obligation of protecting them from harm and death once they step foot in your yard.
Even so, you may not know what items on your property could be labeled as an attractive nuisance and which ones are exempt from this doctrine. Before you cordon off your entire property, you should consult with your insurance agent and a lawyer.
The advice you get from these professionals can guide you as you make your property safer. Their input can also lower the liability issues you might face as a homeowner as well as protect children who accidentally or willfully come onto your property because of their own curiosity and impulsiveness.