A Property Owner’s Duty to Children & Teens Who Come onto the Property Without Permission
It’s a known fact: children and teenagers often play or hang out where they aren’t supposed to. For example, after school, children may hang out in abandoned structures or on another person’s property, without permission. What happens if a child or teen is injured?
Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
Pennsylvania recognizes a specific legal doctrine called the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. Under this doctrine, a property owner/tenant may be liable if a child is injured on an artificial, man-made structure, such as:
- abandoned structures, and
- man-made ditches.
It is important to note that this doctrine only applies to artificial structures and does not apply to natural conditions like slopes of land, trees, etc. In addition, the key is whether the owner had knowledge that children would be present or attracted to the structure. That’s why it is called the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. It is quite common for children and teens to play or horse around on a neighbor’s property. A property owner may be liable if he knows or has reason to know that children/teens would be attracted to a particular structure, but fails to take reasonable precautions to prevent access or otherwise warn of known dangers.
For example, a property owner in the Philadelphia suburbs owns a large piece of property near a middle school and a high school. Kids are known to hang out after school and on the weekends in an abandoned structure on the property. The owner knows that kids hang out in the structure. The owner also knows that the structure is dangerous and unstable, but fails to warn the kids. One of the kids climbs the roof of the structure and falls through the roof, suffering devastating injuries. Here, the landlord would likely face liability for doing nothing despite knowing that children hung out in the structure.
Property owners often devise contraptions to prevent children from accessing their properties. For instance, a landowner may hang a rope to cut off access on a bicycle path which kids are known to take, and a child riding a bike may suffer serious injuries after coming into contact with the rope. This scenario may sound incredible, but there have been cases in which property owners have taken such extreme measures. For example, just last month, a pre-teen in Chicago was nearly decapitated when he came into contact with a thin rope a property owner strung across a bike path. The property owner put the rope up to prevent access by kids.
This type of behavior probably amounts to willful conduct, and under Pennsylvania law, property owners cannot engage in willful conduct even when protecting property from a tresspasser. This applies to children who are present on another person’s property without permission. Property owners who engage in willful conduct (like stringing a rope that trips children riding bikes) would probably be held liable when a child sustains injuries.
If your child or teen was injured on another person’s property, please call our lawyers to discuss your child’s legal rights. Our lawyers are licensed in PA, NJ, NY, IL, and WV. Click To Call