Children are attracted to danger, and property owners are responsible for protecting them under Pennsylvania law. Typically, premises liability laws apply to situations when a property owner is aware of visitors and fails to protect them from danger. When a person suffers an injury on someone else’s property, they need to prove that the owner or manager of the property should have known about the danger to make a personal injury claim for damages. These dangers are typically unseen, as a person is not generally able to make a premises liability if they’ve suffered from something that is visibly dangerous and something that most people would avoid.
However, there is one legal policy in Pennsylvania (and many other states) which changes the requirements for successful premises liability claims and can make property owners liable for obvious dangers. Attractive nuisance is a legal concept that makes property owners responsible for preventing children from reaching hazards. Attractive nuisance describes dangerous property features that most adults would avoid, but children are drawn to.
Why Are Children Attracted to Danger?
Testing the limits of danger seems to be part of natural life. Young monkeys take risks by swinging to hard-to-reach branches. Chimps play games by allowing themselves to freefall and catching a low branch. Baby goats jump awkwardly on the sides of cliffs. Human children climb high objects and generally run toward danger with a glee that is distressing for their adult caretakers. So, why are young mammals so obsessed with danger? Scientists have asked this question for years, and some believe they have an explanation.
Researchers have recorded repeated behavior across species which they call the emotion regulation of play. This idea notes that one of playing is more than fun for children—it’s an adaptive behavior for learning. By taking risks, children learn how to manage fear. By approaching danger, a child learns what fear is, how to manage it, and how to survive it. So, what does behavioral research have to do with the law?
Why Attractive Nuisance Laws Matter
Attractive nuisance creates accountability for property owners and their efforts to prevent children from accessing dangers. Emotion regulation of play means even though adults know to avoid potential dangers such as swimming pools, children will actively approach them. If a pool is accessible for children, scientific research reveals that it’s in a child’s nature to try and reach the open danger of the water.
Attractive nuisance laws matter for one simple reason: they protect the lives of those who are not yet capable of protecting their own.
Pennsylvania Attractive Nuisance Claims
Like any other premises liability claims, attractive nuisance is provable through specific criteria. First, it must be reasonable that danger is attractive to children. For example, climbable rocks, bodies of water, and other common features present a natural temptation to children. Property owners should know to block a child’s access to features such as these. Next, owners should be aware that if children are likely to visit their property. If a pool is in an apartment complex, then it is reasonable that property managers should know that children will regularly visit the area, and a property owner is responsible for their safety.
Another factor in attractive nuisance claims is the cost of mitigating danger. If the cause of an accident would have cost less money to prevent than the cost associated with it, then property owners and managers are responsible. Finally, attractive nuisance claims are strengthened when the danger in question is not recognizable to a child. For example, a child might not know that it’s unsafe to step on a pool cover because it looks like a solid surface.