The attractive nuisance doctrine is a specific doctrine in Illinois and other jurisdictions that enables individuals to hold property owners liable for injuries to children who trespass on a person’s property. This law applies when the victim trespassed because of an object that appeals to children and encourages them to engage with it.
Learn more about the attractive nuisance doctrine and how it may allow for the development of liability lawsuits when a child sustains injuries on someone else’s property.
What Is an Attractive Nuisance?
Some objects on people’s property may attract children, including everything from playground equipment to fun-looking yard decor. Children and even teenagers may see these items and want to explore them closer, leading them to trespass onto a landowner’s property. These objects, known as “attractive nuisances,” could subsequently lead children to sustain injuries if the property or the nuisance itself is unsafe for children.
If a child sustains injuries on a property because of something deemed an “attractive nuisance,” property owners may be liable in a claim or lawsuit. In Illinois and other jurisdictions, the doctrine making people liable for attractive nuisances is specifically called the attractive nuisance doctrine.
You may wonder if there’s an attractive nuisance age limit—or are children of all ages potentially involved? There isn’t an established age limit in most states operating under the attractive nuisance doctrine. Generally, the law applies to children who are no older than 12, but it could extend to teenagers in some cases. One case in Pennsylvania involved a 17-year-old child.
While attractive nuisances may present dangers to children, there are ways homeowners and other landowners may be able to reduce their liability with certain precautions.
Examples of Attractive Nuisances
Many objects could be attractive nuisances, even if they aren’t designed to appeal to children. Some of the more common attractive nuisance examples include:
Certain water features may attract children to them, especially kiddie pools and other types of pools. These features, including fountains, could present a drowning hazard without the proper rescue items, barriers, and other considerations.
Toys and Playground Equipment
Slides, swings, jungle gyms, and other playground equipment often attract children, particularly as features designed specifically to appeal to children. These could present various hazards, including falling risks. Additionally, some toys may present trip hazards, making it important to put toys away if there’s a risk of injury when children play with them unsupervised.
Many children also find certain weapons attractive, including knives and guns. They may approach and injure themselves or others with the weapon when handling it. Putting weapons away in a safe area, such as a locked gun safe or cabinet, can mitigate this risk.
Debris and features at construction sites, even smaller areas that don’t appear unsafe, could cause injuries to children. Children may perceive certain elements of construction projects as makeshift playgrounds, leading them to attempt to play on them. Signage, barriers, and other measures can help make these areas safer and discourage children from engaging with any construction supplies or equipment.
Other Types of Attractive Nuisances
In addition to the above items, other objects could become attractive nuisances and apply to the attractive nuisance doctrine. These objects could include everything from vehicles to piles of sand or salt.
How to Determine Liability in Attractive Nuisance Cases
If a child sustains various types of personal injury damages in an accident involving an object on someone else’s property, plaintiffs must be able to prove that the landowner was liable in accordance with the attractive nuisance doctrine. There are several elements victims must demonstrate to prove liability in attractive nuisance cases.
One of the first elements plaintiffs must prove in these cases is that the child’s mental development and age rendered him or her unable to acknowledge and understand the risks of suffering harm when entering certain areas.
In addition, plaintiffs must show that the object in question benefitted the defendant in some way that would warrant the defendant’s keeping it on the property, but that the cost of removing the object or the surrounding dangerous condition would be minimal in contrast to the risks they pose to children.
Additionally, like other types of liability cases, plaintiffs must prove that the child suffered injuries and other damages as a result of the interaction with the attractive nuisance.
One last item that plaintiffs need to prove is that the defendant owed certain duties to the plaintiff, much like other types of premises liability cases. These duties could entail warning people of dangers present or eliminating them entirely from the property. Subsequently, the plaintiff would need to show that the defendant breached this duty and that this breach of duty led to the child’s injuries.
How to Prevent Injuries Due to Attractive Nuisances on Your Property
There are multiple ways property owners can prevent injuries that might otherwise result from attractive nuisances.
Preventing swimming pool accidents is often doable for many property owners. For example, you can secure the pool area with a fence that prevents children from entering the property and accessing the pool. Additionally, you could include a locked gate and a pool cover that further prevent unauthorized access to the pool area. You may also include rescue devices such as ropes and life rings.
If you have playground equipment on your property, another step you can take is to check the equipment regularly for any wear and tear. Also, ensure that all swings are spaced far enough from each other and that toddler swings are in a separate space. Padding the ground could also help prevent fall injuries, whether you use sand, pea gravel, wood chips, or another type of substrate.
At construction sites, property owners can install temporary barriers that keep people out. They may also remove batteries from and turn the power off for various power tools, including drills and other potentially dangerous equipment and machinery.
In the case of weapons, gun owners can use a gun safe, cabinet, or another locked storage area to keep weapons secure when not in use.
One last step you can take is to warn people of potential dangers that you’re unable to move or eliminate. This could involve verbally warning neighbors and others in the area of potential dangers, or setting up signage that clearly warns children and others about the dangers present.
Taking these measures can help reduce or even eliminate the risk of injury to children and others who enter your property. You can also secure your property by generally scanning your property and determining if it’s in compliance with all state and local laws. Depending on the property, you might want to look into building codes in your area to confirm whether your property is in compliance.
What to Do if a Child Sustains Injuries Because of an Attractive Nuisance
If your child sustains injuries and you believe it’s because of an attractive nuisance, you may be able to seek compensation from liable landowners through a lawsuit. However, there are some potential defenses that property owners may have in these cases.
Before suing the property owner, you must show that the property owner failed to warn others of the danger and take the appropriate measures to secure his or her property.
With the help of a premises liability lawyer, you may be able to increase your chances of succeeding with a claim or suit against a liable property owner. An experienced premises liability lawyer in Chicago may be able to help you prove that the property owner was negligent and that this negligence led to injuries. An attorney can also collect evidence to help prove liability and determine how much compensation you’re able to recover in a case.
Evidence in these cases could include everything from medical records proving the extent of the child’s injury to video footage of the scene of the accident captured through security cameras. If you are unable to obtain any of this evidence to build a case, a lawyer may be able to assist you.
Ultimately, you’re not without options if a child sustains injuries on someone else’s property. With sufficient evidence and a strong case against a liable landowner, you may be able to recover various personal injury damages, including medical expenses and pain and suffering experienced because of the child’s injuries.
Understanding the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
If you have an understanding of the attractive nuisance doctrine and what constitutes an attractive nuisance, you may be able to either take the proper steps to prevent injuries on your property or file a lawsuit against liable property owners for facilitating attractive nuisances.
Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.