Pools, playground equipment and other artificial landscaping features can make your yard a magnet for every kid in the neighborhood. But the very things that make it so attractive can also make it dangerous – so dangerous those features are considered “attractive nuisances,” luring teens and children onto your property to play.
Attractive nuisances can include a wide range of elements, from construction projects and power tools to swimming pools– that is, anything that might be seen by children or teenagers as having that “wow factor.” Other attractive nuisances are less obvious but still create liability risks for homeowners.
You can reduce your liability for accidents without filling in your pool or hauling away your playground equipment or other features that make your property distinctive and entertaining. There are precautions you can take to reduce the foreseeable dangers these features may pose and help protect yourself from charges of negligence.
Throughout the U.S., state and local laws require homeowners to take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of people on their property. When those people are child trespassers rather than guests, liability may depend on whether a reasonable person could foresee danger from the situation and, if so, whether actions were taken to prevent injuries. “There are rarely clear rules,” says personal injury attorney Peter Ventura. “Liability often comes down to common sense, and each case depends on the specifics of the situation.
“If someone gets hurt on your property and you deviated from building or sanitary codes, that [could lead to] a lawsuit. Adhering to building codes is your best protection.”
For example, a rough flagstone walkway leading to a deck is an obvious hazard that can cause people to stumble and fall. If it’s also unlit, the chance of stumbling is even higher. Therefore, ensure walking surfaces around your property are even and well-lit to minimize the risk of falls.
Children who trespass are treated differently than adults who trespass. As personal injury lawyer Guy S. DiMartino explains, “Children under the age of six or seven (depending on the state) can’t be considered negligent because of their age.” Therefore, property owners may be liable for injuries children receive on their property because of attractive nuisances.
To be considered an attractive nuisance:
- A potentially dangerous condition exists on the property
- The landowner created or maintained the potential danger
- The landowner should have known the condition would attract children
- The landowner should have known the condition could harm children.
Most common attractive nuisance examples
“For most homeowners, the leading attractive nuisances are water features, construction materials, toys,” says personal injury attorney Erik Abrahamson.
If it’s possible to drown in any water feature, it’s a hazard. This includes fountains, pools and wells.
As a pool owner, you are liable for accidents even if people sneak into your pool without your consent. Whether the pool is in-ground, above ground or a kiddie pool, you can reduce your risk by surrounding your pool area with a fence that’s at least four feet high and is hard to climb, installing a locking gate (preferably with an audible alarm) and covering the pool with a safety cover. Keep rescue items (like a life ring with throw ropes) in the pool area, but remove all pool toys from the deck and pool area immediately after swimming to make the pool less inviting to children. And never leave young children alone near water -- not even for an instant.
Also think about risks when designing other water features, like fountains. Attractive barriers can help prevent accidents, and floating alarms that sound when someone enters the water can be used to alert you of the situation.
If you have a water feature, your insurance agent may advise purchasing additional liability insurance that includes damage to the pool, deck and deck furnishings as well as liability for injury.
Playground equipment and toys
Most home playground injuries involve swings, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). At public playgrounds, climbing equipment racks up the most injuries. To reduce the chance of accidents, the National Association of Home Inspectors recommends spacing swings at least 24 inches apart and at least 30 inches from the support frame. Put toddler swings in their own area, and ensure they have full-bucket seats. Check swings regularly for wear and tear. Because most injuries from swings also involve falls, install a shock-absorbing surface for your playground and make sure it continues at least six feet from the swing set. Sand, wood chips, pea gravel or similar surface are good shock absorbers. Be aware, however, that recycled rubber, while cushioning, may be carcinogenic.
Trampolines, zip lines and tree houses are also attractive to kids and teens, so build them with safety in mind. For example, install a pulley system for tree houses so items can be hoisted up rather than carried, and use a fixed, wooden ladder rather than a rope ladder for added safety.
If you have any of these playground features, consider installing a locked and alarmed fence around your yard or around the playground so you know when someone is playing there.
Construction projects are kid magnets. “Even projects like rebuilding decks, building additions and repairing the roof are attractive nuisances,” Abrahamson says. Lumber piles can become forts, ladders may become stairways to remote lands that demand exploration, and tools can even become sword and shield to the young and imaginative.
Reduce their lure by renting a dumpster for construction debris, lay ladders on the ground when not in use and remove your tools each night, storing them in a locked room or tool box. When briefly stepping away during projects, turn off power tools, and remove their batteries or unplug them. In your construction zone, be aware of unfinished areas that may have exposed outlets, missing handrails, holes in the floor or other hazards. Ventura recommends putting up hazard signs and safety cones, too, so potentially dangerous areas are clearly evident.
Despite decades of teaching children not to touch weapons, even well-behaved children who know and can repeat the rules – that is, you don’t touch, you back away, you call an adult – can be drawn to guns. Therefore, keep weapons safely locked away. While locked file cabinets or closets may suffice for storage, weapons are more secure in an actual gun safe, unloaded. Consider storing ammunition in a separate, locked area. Be certain children do not know the combination to the safe or have access to the key.
Beyond the usual nuisances
Cars, old appliances, sand and gravel piles and anything else that could attract the curious also can be considered attractive nuisances. Keeping your property junk-free and in reasonable repair can mitigate some of these issues.
Limiting your liability for injury caused by attractive nuisances comes down to common sense. Think about what could possibly go wrong that could result in an accident. Have you done everything you can to prevent such an incident? Reduce your risks now, before accidents occur.
Insurance can’t make attractive nuisances safer, but it can help protect you from financial losses in case of covered injuries.
Contact your insurance agent to discuss attractive nuisances and policy options to reduce your risk exposure.