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What is the attractive nuisance doctrine?

The summer months in California bring with them numerous activities for your kids to do outside. As the temperatures reach their hottest levels of the year, one particularly appealing activity is swimming in your community’s public and private pools. Cities and municipalities often place extensive resources in managing access to public pools; private property owners, however, often do not.

This may be largely due to the assumption that people will not get into a pool without the owner’s permission. Yet the appeal of swimming (and the fun a pool offers) can easily overwhelm your children’s still-developing judgment. The question then becomes what happens when that appeal results in death or serious injury.

Attractive nuisances explained

Can you hold a pool owner liable in such a situation? The attractive nuisance doctrine allows for just that. “Attractive nuisances” are artificial features of a property that might appeal to young children (such as abandoned buildings, construction sites and yes, swimming pools). According to the Cornell Law School, the attractive nuisance doctrine recognizes that children may not have the level of discernment necessary to understand the risk an attractive nuisance poses. Thus, this doctrine assigns liability to property owners who do not exercise due caution in restricting kids’ access to them.

Exceptions to the attractive nuisance doctrine

What, then, constitutes “due caution” in this circumstance? If a pool owner places tangible barriers of access to their pool (such as a locked fence), then the law may absolve them of liability due to having made it difficult to access. If they place no barriers for entry, however, you may argue that failure warrants liability (even if your child comes onto their property without permission).