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Understanding premises liability when children are involved

The laws relating to premises liability require property owners or residents to maintain their property in safe condition in order to avoid liability if a person who enters the property is injured. In many cases, the imposition of liability depends to a large degree on the status of the person injured: whether he or she was an invitee, a licensee or a trespasser. However, when a child is involved and is the person injured on the property, the rules relating to premises liability differ a bit.

Because children have a lesser degree of knowledge and understanding than adults, a property owner or resident has a greater duty to warn children of potential dangers on a property. The duty attaches when a property owner or resident has knowledge of two key things: the likely presence of children on the property and the existence of a dangerous condition that is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death.

However, the existence of a dangerous condition or the knowledge that children will visit the premises is insufficient on its own to result in liability to a property owner. When determining whether a property owner or resident is liable for injuries suffered by a child while on the property, the judge will consider both the extent to which the property owner needs to maintain the dangerous condition and the degree of burden associated with eliminating it. These things will be analyzed against the potential risk caused to the children by the dangerous property condition.

If the need to maintain the condition or the burden of eliminating it is low as compared with the risk posed to children AND if the property owner or resident did not take reasonable care to abate the risk or otherwise protect the children, then he or she may be held liable for any injuries that result. In addition, property owners have an even higher burden to warn of danger and take effort to protect children when the dangerous condition is known to attract children. These kinds of dangerous property conditions are called an attractive nuisance.

Source: FindLaw, "Premises Liability: Who Is Responsible?" last accessed Nov. 1, 2014

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