Attractive Nuisances: How to avoid liability for dangerously tempting objects

If you own a swimming pool, there's a good possibility you'll attract more than the occasional migratory bird. On hot summer days, there are few things more enticing to children than a vacant swimming pool. And this could spell disaster if you haven't taken reasonable precautions to keep the neighborhood youngsters out of your yard. In fact, you could be looking at a very serious lawsuit if one of them takes an illicit swim while you're away and becomes injured. The reason? Swimming pools fall under a special class of objects known as attractive nuisances.

An attractive nuisance is an appealing item that may present a danger to children who encounter it. If you happen to have something on your property that is particularly tempting to children, it's your legal responsibility to reduce the risk of harm. The law takes the position that children require special protections, so even if a child is trespassing you could be held liable for the hazards he or she encounters.

What are some other examples of attractive nuisances? Some classic objects include old refrigerators (if the door latch is not removed, a child can get locked inside and suffocate), machinery and power equipment (think riding mowers and nail guns), and building materials. Even something like a tall ladder left leaning against a wall can be an attractive nuisance since children love to climb and could easily hurt themselves in a fall. Other water dangers include koi ponds and decorative fountains. Remember, it only takes two inches of water for a child to drown. Sadly, hundreds of children are killed in swimming pools and other water related accidents each year. So the danger is very real.

Does this mean you have to fill in your pool, retire your chainsaw, give away your riding mower and make sure your property is child-proofed? Luckily, the law does not require such extreme measures.

Does this mean you have to fill in your pool, retire your chainsaw, give away your riding mower and make sure your property is child-proofed? Luckily, the law does not require such extreme measures. You can keep all of those enticing objects on your property so long as you take reasonable precautions to prevent them from causing harm to a child. For starters, make sure you keep dangerous objects safely inaccessible. A swimming pool surrounded by a fence or covered by a locked safety cover is no longer an attractive nuisance. A riding mower left running on your lawn is an attractive nuisance; one locked up in a shed is not.

In case you were wondering: Simply posting a sign that reads "no trespassing"or "swim at your own risk" will not mitigate your liability. Unfortunately, this is not adequate protection for young children—many of whom cannot yet read—and it will not absolve you from legal responsibility in the event of an accident.

So why is the legal liability for this class of objects greater than that of other potentially dangers items—say, a big cactus or a sharp stick left in your yard? Well, by their very nature, attractive nuisances are objects that are extremely alluring to children. In addition, attractive nuisances are typically man-made objects that are created or maintained by a property owner.

What it really boils down to is being aware of potential safety hazards around you and making a good faith effort to protect the children who may come onto your property—even the ones who have not been invited.