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What is the attractive nuisance doctrine?

As a parent in Oakland, you want your young children to be free to go outside and experience the carefree adventures that come with youth. At the same time, you are likely concerned that they will encounter certain conditions and attractions that, despite your warnings, they may not see as being dangerous. Since you cannot keep them locked up inside, you are left hoping that those who own the properties on which such attractions can be found have taken the necessary steps to prevent kids from being harmed by them. If they have not, can they be held liable if such an attraction injures your child? 

The attractive nuisance doctrine says that they can. This principle (as shared by Cornell University's Law School) states that property owners can be held responsible for injuries to children caused by objects or conditions on their land. This holds true even if the children were on the property without permission. This doctrine recognizes that children may lack the maturity needed to perceive the danger that certain attractions may pose. 

What are some examples of attractive nuisances? Before being referred to as the attractive nuisance doctrine, the idea was referred to as "the turntable doctrine," referring to railroad turntables that often attracted the interest of children looking to play. Common nuisances often seen today include: 

  • Swimming pools
  • Construction sites
  • High-voltage towers
  • Fountains and canals
  • Farm equipment

Keep in mind, however, that this principle may only apply to cases where a property owner has done nothing to restrict your child and others from gaining access to his or her property. For example, a pool owner that erects a fence around the pool may claim to have taken steps to protect kids from it. 

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