Child Trespassers and Your Responsibilities
Children are inquisitive by nature which can lead them to explore places which may present a danger to them. A child may sneak into a neighbor’s pool without their knowledge and end up being at risk because they are not a strong swimmer or the water has just been chemically treated and is not safe their skin and eyes. While it is inevitable that kids will be curious, it is essential to understand the legal concepts pertaining to child trespassers and your responsibilities.
What is a Trespasser?
A trespasser is someone who enters your property without permission. Under Florida law, the property owner does not owe a trespasser a duty of care. This means that the landowner’s only responsibility to the trespasser is to refrain from intentionally harming them. However, if the property owner knows or has reason to know that individuals are regularly on their land, they must warn the trespassers of dangerous conditions which are present but not obvious or open to them. Therefore, when an owner is aware of the trespasser, they may have some duties to them.
Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
One exception to the rule absolving landowners of liability for trespassers is the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine. This doctrine is designed to protect child trespassers from being harmed by hazards which were created by a property owner. The idea is that some conditions or items present on land will attract children. If those conditions are dangerous to potential child trespassers, the landowner is obligated to eliminate the danger or provide warnings. If a child trespasser is harmed while on a property owners land, the owner may have some liability.
When is a Property Owner Liable under the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine?
Generally, a property owner may be liable for a child trespasser’s injuries if:
- They knew or had a reason to know a child may trespass where there is a dangerous condition;
- The dangerous condition is known or should be known to create an unreasonable risk of harm to a child;
- Due to their age, the child does not realize the risk involved with the dangerous condition;
- The burden of getting rid of the danger is less than the risk presented to the child; and
- The landowner does not act with reasonable care to remove the danger or protect the child from the risk of danger.
Examples of Attractive Nuisance
Whether something constitutes an attractive nuisance is ultimately to be decided by a judge or jury. However, as indicated above, unsecured swimming pools are considered an attractive nuisance. Additionally, property water features, abandoned vehicles, dryers, refrigerators, and freezers are also items which have been found to present a danger and attract children.
Ways to Prevent Accidents and Prevent Liability
Property owners should assess their land and be mindful of anything present which could foreseeably harm another person. If a threat is identified, the landowner should take steps to caution others or change the condition. This may include posting warning and no trespassing signs or building a fence around the dangerous area. If the property has an abandoned vehicle, have it towed away. If there are abandoned appliances, have the doors removed to prevent a child from being trapped inside. If you have a way to lock or secure the area, be sure you have done so. Taking these and other steps to maintain safe conditions on your property can not only reduce your liability but can also help prevent tragic accidents.
If you or a loved one have been hurt because of landowner negligence, please contact the Draper Law Firm, for a free assessment of your case. To learn more, contact us today online or call 866-767-4711. We proudly serve the greater Central Florida area with offices located in Kissimmee, Orlando, and St. Cloud.