Thinking about getting a swimming pool this year? Think ahead and prevent a lawsuit. (The attractive nuisance doctrine)
The attractive nuisance doctrine applies to the law of torts, or personal wrong doing, in the United States. It states that a landowner may be held liable for injuries to children trespassing on the land if the injury is caused by an object on the land that is likely to attract children. Mind you, a child can be defined by law as a 17 year-old, 200 pound linebacker.
When you are thinking about improving your property outside, remember, typical attractive nuisances include:
- Swimming pools and fountains
- Machinery (lawnmowers, gasoline pumps, etc)
- Wells and tunnels
- Dangerous animals
- Paths and stairs
An attractive nuisance can also be things like a hole that you dig in the ground or a swing set you put in the yard. If it is not found naturally on the land then you are liable should anyone get hurt – even when they are not supposed to be on your property! (And by the way- posting “no trespassing” signs are not the answer.)
For instance, there was one case years ago where a man had a piece of property with an abandoned silo on it. Kids would come and climb on the ladder to the silo all of the time so he built a fence around the land. Kids then cut a hole in the fence and entered the property and subsequently got injured and sued. The court said even if the owner were to have fixed the fence every time it would not have been good enough. He should have removed the ladder to prevent access to the silo.
Therefore, take precautions. You are never required to childproof your property, but taking some basic actions to prevent injury goes a long way toward avoiding liability. Courts tend to punish people who didn’t seem to care or put any effort into encouraging safety. If you can list the steps you took to prevent injury, many courts will be satisfied, even if they didn’t ultimately work. When you put up a swimming pool, make sure to have a cover on it, or if it is an above ground pool, keep the ladder well away from it when not in use. Have a locked gate around it so little ones cannot accidentally stumble into the pool area. For any equipment you have, make sure it is in good repair. This will not guarantee no one will get hurt but it will help.
If someone should get injured, make sure that you either have enough money in the bank to settle the lawsuit or report it to your homeowners insurance company immediately.
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