Premises Liability Laws That Protect Those Too Young to Protect Themselves
Kids will be kids. Sometimes they’re careless, e.g., when venturing on another person’s property and exploring potential hazards. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 children under age 14 are injured in playground accidents each year. Others sustain injuries caused by “attractive nuisances” on a property that is not open to the public.
Premises liability laws like Colorado’s Premises Liability Act require owners to maintain their properties in such a way as to prevent injuries, but these laws do not typically protect illegal trespassers old enough to be “presumed competent.” That category does not include very young children, who, unlike adults, may not understand that trespassing is illegal.
Colorado’s attractive nuisance doctrine recognizes that younger children cannot be expected to exercise the same care and judgment as adults with respect to property hazards. The doctrine allows recovery for young children injured while trespassing who would otherwise be ineligible for compensation from the property owner.
Examples of Attractive Nuisance
Examples of common attractive nuisances that may render a property owner subject to the attractive use doctrine include:
- Swimming pools not surrounded by high, secure fences and locked gates.
- Outdoor playground equipment and toys like trampolines, skateboard ramps, jungle gyms, playsets, and treehouses.
- Railroads, particularly tracks, turntables, visible ladders, and freight cars.
- Power lines and high-voltage towers.
- Construction zones with heavy machinery and giant piles of dirt, rock, and lumber.
- Industrial water hazards like irrigation canals or ponds where rainwater collects.
- Discarded older appliances like refrigerators, chest freezers, and clothes dryers into which children might climb and hide.
- Abandoned vehicles that children play in and around or are capable of being set in motion.
- Farm equipment like grain bins, silos, haylofts, and tractors.
- Holes in the ground like drainage ditches, excavation trenches, sewer drains, wells, cisterns, and other open pits.
Establishing Liability for a Young Trespasser’s Injury
In order for a landowner to be held responsible for a child’s injury, all of the following criteria must be met:
- The landowner is aware (or should be aware) that children are apt to trespass on his property.
- A condition, structure, or object present on the property could cause serious harm to a child or even kill him.
- The children who wander onto the property are too young to understand the risks of the hazardous condition, structure, or object. In Colorado, the attractive use doctrine applies to children under the age of 14.
- The cost required to remedy the dangerous situation is minimal considering the risk it poses to children.
- The landowner has taken no action to remove the danger posed by the condition, structure, or object.
Courts typically consider the age and intellectual ability of an injured child when determining whether he could have understood the risk of harm and whether the property owner acted reasonably in maintaining the premises. A “Danger: No Trespassing” sign may be enough to warn an older child, but may have no effect on a very young child.
If your young child has suffered an injury that may be covered by the attractive nuisance doctrine, contact Colorado personal injury lawyer Dan Rosen at (303) 454-8000 or (800) ROSEN-911 to schedule your free initial consultation to discuss the details of the accident.