Understanding the attractive nuisance doctrine
April 23, 2015
Children are naturally curious, and home insurance companies know that. That's why they have created the attractive nuisance doctrine. Attractive nuisance laws make homeowners liable for elements of their property that could be both potentially enticing and harmful to children. Not every attractive nuisance is necessarily outlined in the doctrine, but in the event of an accident, homeowners might be held accountable if they don't take any precautionary measures for something that could clearly get a child's attention. Liability is determined on a case-by-case basis, but there are some common home facets that most are quite commonly considered to be under the attractive nuisance doctrine.
Understand the attractive nuisance doctrine to prevent a home insurance disaster.
Swimming pools are almost always considered an attractive nuisance. The attractiveness of cool water on a hot day and the provision of a fun summer activity is why many homeowners choose to buy pools in the first place. However, if a child wanders into a pool and gets seriously injured, even without the homeowner's knowledge, that owner of the house is liable for those medical costs.
There's really no arguing how much fun a slide or diving board can look, and people with pools are especially susceptible to liability issues if they know children frequently play in their neighborhood. Therefore, homeowners need to take the proper precautionary measures in order to avoid a home insurance nightmare. If you own a pool, pay attention to state or local laws. Many local governments require a certain number of barriers to prevent children from wandering into a swimming pool. Consider building a fence, removing the ladder from the pool when it's not in use and installing a pool alarm.
Large appliances that a child could fit inside of are also often considered attractive nuisances. Kids love to play hide and seek, and a freezer or old washing machine sitting in your open garage could be a neat place to take cover. Getting trapped in one of these typical household appliances could lead to suffocation or injury. Fortunately, according to the Refrigerator Safety Act, any refrigerator made after 1953 must be able to be opened from the inside. While this puts the majority of refrigerators in a safe zone, homeowners still might own pre-safety-law appliances. Additionally, just because the refrigerator can open from the inside doesn't mean a child will be able to get out safely. It's important, then, to not store large appliances outside, or if they are in the garage, keep the door shut.
Typically any outdoor equipment a homeowner buys for their children—a jungle gym, a trampoline, or a skateboard ramp—can be considered an attractive nuisance. After all, it was bought for its attractiveness to kids. Just think about your own childhood: how many times did you fall off the monkey bars or tumble down a slide? These dangers are real, and kids are often too young or inexperienced to realize them. It's important for your kids to stay active and play outside, so just because these types of playthings could pose a threat to kids doesn't mean you should avoid buying them. However, make sure you have the proper safety precautions in place to prevent a child from wandering into your yard.
Not only will these precautionary measures save you from homeowners insurance trouble, but it could also save the life of an innocent child. Take a walk around your property with the attractive nuisance doctrine in mind, and determine if any of your personal property has the potential to fall under this law. Lock it up, build a fence or get rid of items that could be harmful to kids in order to keep your neighborhood safe and home premium rates to a minimum.