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Just what is the 'attractive nuisance' doctrine?

We all know children like to explore and use their imaginations. Maybe on a lovely California summer day your kids will go into your yard to build a fort or something else fun. Off in the distance, in your neighbor's yard, they see a pile of wood from a shed the neighbor has taken down, and they dart off before you know it to grab a piece, perfect for their fort.

And then, through the open kitchen window where you've been keeping an eye out, you hear a scream. Wood has fallen on one of your children, causing injuries.

Anyone who has items on their property that could attract children and also cause harm must take precautions. Under the law, they have a responsibility to keep kids safe through what is known as the "attractive nuisance" doctrine.

The attractive nuisance doctrine loosely means:

  1. By law, children can't be expected to understand dangers that something on your property could pose
  2. Property owners have a responsibility to keep children off their property and away from harm that could await them
  3. If the property owner doesn't take such a step, they could be held liable for the child's injuries.

An attractive nuisance generally is considered to be something that could attract a child to your property. Courts typically interpret the enticements to be manmade and not occurring by nature, so your swimming pool could be an attractive nuisance while a pond on your property isn't. Other attractive nuisances could include your animals, a fountain, machinery or tunnels.

Going back to our example of the child seeking materials for a fort, your neighbor could be liable for the child's injuries if they failed to take precautions to keep children safe. An attorney who works with premises liability is the first call you should make in helping to pursue a liability claim for such an injury.

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