Understanding attractive nuisances in Pennsylvania

Parents should understand Pennsylvania’s laws when it comes to attractive nuisances, or conditions that could attract and harm children.

In 2008, a 2-year-old child was found floating face-up in a decorative pond in Pennsylvania. According to court documents, the child's mother could not find her daughter after tending to another child in her home. Law enforcement eventually located the little girl in a neighbor's artificial pond. While the girl survived, she did suffer serious injuries.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court heard the case, in which the family of the little girl alleged that the pond was an attractive nuisance and the property owners should be responsible for the injuries. While the court ruled in favor of the property owners, the case does illustrate the importance of understanding the state's laws regarding premises liability.

What is an attractive nuisance?

The Pennsylvania Restatement of Torts addresses the subject of liability when it comes to children who enter someone else's property and get injured. Children, by their very nature, will be curious about items that they may or may not know are dangerous or deadly. Therefore, they might jump into swimming pools even though they cannot swim or attempt to climb stairs that are visibly broken.

An attractive nuisance is generally held as a condition of property that is not natural. For example, a climbing tree is a natural occurrence and would not be considered an attractive nuisance. A man-made item, such as a swimming pool, would be considered a liability.

The factors that determine liability

Under Pennsylvania law, there are several factors that are used to determine whether or not the property owners may be held liable in the event that a child is injured or killed on their land. To be liable, the following must be true:

  • The owners should have known that the land condition was hazardous.
  • The owners should have known that children are likely to visit the area.
  • The cost of eliminating the condition, such as fencing in the area, is insignificant compared to the risk the condition poses.
  • The children would not have realized the danger of the situation.

It is also important to point out that as a general rule regarding premises liability, property owners who are aware of a potential hazard should take the appropriate steps to eliminate the risk. If, for example, a property owner fences in a pool and a child climbs the fence and jumps in the water, it is likely that the property owner would not be held liable.

In the above example regarding the child who was found in the pond, the court ruled that the property owners would not have reason to believe that children would trespass on their land. Therefore, the court determined that the owners were not responsible for the child's injuries.

Legal recourse

Families that have been affected by an attractive nuisance do have the ability to hold landowners responsible. Pennsylvania law sets a two-year statute of limitations regarding premises liability claims. In other words, an injured party only has two years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit in court.

Anyone with questions about this matter should consult with an attorney.