In a previous post discussing Premises Liability, we briefly noted two (2) relevant legal doctrines – Attractive Nuisance and Sovereign Immunity. We will address Sovereign Immunity and the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act in a subsequent post, but today we want to discuss the other doctrine: Attractive Nuisance.
Premises Liability, property owners have a duty of reasonable care to anyone entering their property. The highest duty of care is owed to those who have express or implied permission to be on that property, known as invitees and licensees under Massachusetts law. An example of this are patrons of a restaurant or supermarket. Trespassers are owed the lowest duty, i.e., people who enter a property without permission. A trespasser cannot sue a property owner for injuries suffered on that property except under “unusually dangerous” situations. There is; however, one group of potential trespassers to whom property owners still owe the duty of reasonable care: young children. This is where the doctrine of attractive nuisance applies. Under this doctrine, property owners can still be found liable for injuries caused to a young child, even one who is trespassing.
Massachusetts defines an attractive nuisance as an artificial condition on the property owner’s land that can “attract” children to trespass onto the land and lead to injury. This means that a natural pond, rock face, or other natural condition on the property is not subject to the laws of attractive nuisance.
According to the law, a child who trespasses onto another’s property because of an attractive nuisance and who is injured by that attractive nuisance can be compensated for his or her injuries if:
- The place where the nuisance exists is a place where the landowner knows or has reason to know that children are likely to trespass;
- The nuisance is one which the landowner knows or should have reason to know involves an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to a child;
- Children, because of their youth, are unlikely to realize the danger they are in by coming near the nuisance;
- The burden on the landowner of eliminating or mitigating the danger is slight compared to the danger presented to children; and
- The landowner fails to take reasonable measures to eliminate the danger or protect children.
If the trespassing child is injured, then the property owner may be found liable if they failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from entering the property. Stated another way, if there is something on a property that may be inherently attractive to a child and the child is injured by that object, a property owner may be liable because a child cannot fully understand the risks posed by that object.
Swimming pools are the classic example of an artificial condition that may attract a trespassing child; however, certainly not the only one. A quick google search reveals other common examples, e.g., trampolines, tree houses, machinery, etc., cited throughout case law.
Using the example of a swimming pool, putting up a fence shows – legally speaking in terms of reasonable care – that the property owner understood the risk a pool may pose to a child and took reasonable care to mitigate that risk. This is why many local municipalities require a fence around a pool.
While the law is designed to protect young children, the age of that child is not cut and dry. For example, the landowner’s duties may vary as it relates to a three-year old versus a thirteen-year old. That is to say a court may find an older child would have a greater appreciation of the risks. These claims can be difficult to evaluate and it certainly makes sense to speak with an experienced attorney.
If your child was injured due to an attractive nuisance on another person’s property, call the experienced premises liability lawyers at Marcotte Law Firm for a free, no obligation consultation.