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Attractive nuisances and homeowners insurance

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

An attractive nuisance, that sounds like an oxymoron, right?

It’s actually exactly that, and insurers don’t like them. What are they, where are they, and why are they a nuisance if they’re so attractive?

Attractive nuisances are a bit like a fatal attraction, and they’re often in your own backyard. They’re unfortunately usually attractive to the most unassuming victims — children. You may think you’ve covered all areas when it comes to child-proofing a home, but there’s way more than electrical outlets to worry about. Young children may not realize they’re placing themselves in harm’s way in what seems innocent to children and sometimes even adults. Despite appearances, intent, or direct responsibility, when an accident happens that involves a child, courts take a different approach. That approach is known as the attractive nuisance doctrine, and insurers want to avoid having to pay out for accidents from them.

What is an attractive nuisance?

An attractive nuisance is something that exists on your property that could potentially be dangerous (most often for children or the elderly). It’s something that you have chosen to have that, although it may be attractive, poses potential danger.

Attractive nuisances can include a whole range of things, some of which are obvious, some of which are more obscure. It’s important to know what attractive nuisances exist on your property so you know how much liability insurance to purchase. 

Below are some of the most common attractive nuisances.

1. Railroads:

All aboard! We know children are content by the simple process of watching toy trains go around and around, and perhaps that’s why railroads seem to pose no danger. Real railroads and children’s safety definitely aren’t a toy though. The allure of railroad turntables to children eventually led to the “turntable doctrine” which preceded attractive nuisance laws once the idea that a landowner is responsible for trespassing children was established.

2. Swimming Pools:

Those seemingly serene pools in many backyards are the ultimate attractive nuisances, perhaps best illustrating what an attractive nuisance is. Everyone loves a swimming pool in the summer — everyone. Sometimes our dogs even love them, but versus being funny when they take a dive to cool off on hot days, it’s definitely not funny when people (especially children) don’t have established “boundaries” around pools they’re at. There’s also not anything funny about the unfortunate deaths and injuries arising from pools, nor the expenses you’ll face in liability if something were to happen in your backyard oasis. If you have a pool, insurers will require you to have the pool securely gated and locked at all times. If you don’t do that — either before you buy your policy or afterwards — you’re facing denial of insurance coverage, denied claims, cancelled policies, and likely large liability lawsuits you’re responsible for out of your own pocket. If it’s not in your pocket, it probably won’t be long before you lose your pool — and home — to pay for judgments when your assets are seized.

3. Farm Equipment:

Farms vary in size, and although courts believe farmers should install safe fencing, courts have ruled that moving large farm equipment isn’t necessary and live animals are not an attractive nuisance.

4. Construction Sites:

Most kids have a dump truck in the sandbox, and toy dump trucks and play tools are a favorite among children. Similarly to the toy train set, construction sites with such machines and tools are thrilling to children when they see the real thing. Having “experience” with such tools and machines can easily result in children being injured once they see the real thing, since for all they often know, it’s just the giant version of the toys in their toy boxes. Children aren’t the only ones who can get hurt at construction sites — adults can as well. However, it’s much easier for children to sustain injuries. Without the conscientious eye for looming danger and the fascination they may have at such sites, they can easily fall prey to the numerous perils of construction sites. Past cases of such have included falling through holes or sustaining injuries from falling material, but cases are considered on an individual basis. Builders claim the hazardous condition is natural to business operations, so it’s a frustrating battle for homeowners remodeling and construction companies to maintain coverage, have sufficient coverage, and also pay insurance premiums that aren’t through the roof.

5. Power Lines:

The desire to climb is instilled in many of us at a young age so when children see a power line or tower, it may be instinctual to climb up despite cautionary warnings about coming down. From a young age, many of us have heard the lullaby illustrating just this, but children don’t really heed that as a warning and usually also ignore pictographic warning signs, and climb fences, towers, and other dangerous places with a spectacular view. Down came child, low premiums, lawsuits, and all.

6. Fountains & Ponds:

This applies to artificial and man-made water structures. They’re intended to look like the real thing, which themselves aren’t actually considered attractive nuisances. However, children are especially prone to testing the waters and usually won’t know the difference between man-made and natural, which can lead to serious consequences. Since it’s doubtful any child knows about attractive nuisances and the difference between man-made lakes and natural ones, take every safety precaution possible and try spelling out “danger” as clearly as possible in a way children will hopefully understand or that will deter them from jumping right in.

7. Abandoned Cars:

Forget “You might be a redneck if…” jokes. If you have any on your property, insurers don’t see a car collection — they basically see a salvage yard, regardless of whether you have two cars or 100. To avoid the risk of curious children, take safety measures including locking all doors, windows and trunks, and ideally posting warning signs.

8. Old Appliances:

If you have an appliance made before 1958, consider junking it or storing it in a locked facility if it’s in mint condition. Remember Hansel and Gretel? They may have been in a stove, which would still be an issue even in abandoned, old stoves, but consider refrigerators for example. Although car trunks now have safety latches if one is locked inside, refrigerators haven’t adopted that measure and there’s no way for a child locked inside one to get out.

9. Holes:

Make sure fences and signs are posted and that entry is impossible for young children. Things like drainage ditches and cisterns can resemble swimming pools, but there’s no hot fun in the summertime when children think it would be a good idea to take a swim in the ditch or worse, if they fall into a well. If that happened, you could very well be looking at a hefty lawsuit.

10. Playgrounds:

Kids will be kids — but you can still get sued for it. Actual playground structures with swings, slides, and monkey bars certainly pose threats, but the real issue comes about over things like skateboard ramps and trampolines, which count as attractive nuisances too. Although it’s important for children to be active and to spend less time on the Internet and playing video games, providing such items for children to be active on can be just as dangerous as children eating three square fast food meals a day. Always be on guard and make sure users are old enough to stay safe. “Look how high I can go” can quickly turn into fatalities and serious injuries.

What Is the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine?

This law states that landowners can potentially be held responsible for a child injured on the landowner’s property due to an attractive nuisance. This is normally any kind of object that is potentially dangerous while simultaneously being inviting to children. For a landowner to be found responsible, the injury and accident must meet certain criteria.

  • The landowner possesses knowledge that there is a chance children will trespass on the property.
  • An object or condition on your land has the ability to cause harm or death to children.
  • The child/children that were harmed are too young to understand the dangers involved.
  • The cost to repair or maintain the attractive nuisance is small when compared to the risk it poses to young children.
  • The landowner failed to take reasonable action to eliminate the attractive nuisance.

In plain English, the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine indicates that if it’s reasonably possible to safeguard children against an attractive nuisance, then the homeowner is obligated to do so. Even once protection and safeguards have been put in place, the homeowner should purchase the appropriate amount of homeowners insurance

Financial and insurance expert, Laura Adams, states the following about attractive nuisances:

“It’s critical to remember that children who trespass on your property get treated differently than adults. Typically, local laws require landowners and homeowners to protect the safety of people who get invited on your property as well as young trespassers.

If there are potential dangers–such as a pool, fountain, well, playground equipment, trampoline, zip line, treehouse, old car, junk piles, or a construction project–which could harm children, you must mitigate them as much as possible. If a child is hurt and you’re found negligent in a lawsuit, your home insurance may not cover you.

Be sure to consider what attractive nuisances are on your property and how they could harm others, especially children. Taking precautions can keep trespassers safe and make sure your insurance would cover you in the event of an accident.”

How do attractive nuisances affect homeowners insurance rates?

If you’re thinking about getting a pool or a trampoline, you’d be wise to reconsider it. Your homeowners insurance premiums will likely go up — a lot — and some companies may deny coverage completely. If you absolutely have to have your pool, consider raising your liability limits, and definitely invest in an umbrella insurance policy on top of that. This portion of your homeowners insurance policy can pay for court costs and any judgments against you, as well as the medical bills of an injured party, which can overflow from even the largest of pools.

If you have any attractive nuisances on your property, take all the precautions possible to ensure children understand safety guidelines, that you watch them vigilantly, and for the worst scenarios, that they’re discouraged from playing in, around, or on them. Once you’ve done that and secured the right amount of insurance, you should be able to comfortably host family gatherings again, and enjoy watching children playing Marco! Polo! in your pool and squealing with glee when they slide down playground slides.

How to save money on homeowners insurance

There are lots of ways to lower your homeowners insurance, one of which is to take advantage of discount opportunities offered by your insurance provider. Bundling auto insurance with homeowner insurance under a single provider is a popular option. Another one is to install a security system and provide proof of smoke alarms throughout your home. 

Most providers offer numerous ways to get discounts on your homeowners insurance. Speak with your provider directly to determine which ones you may qualify for.  

How to protect yourself and others

Protecting yourself primarily involves using a little common sense. Here are six simple things you can do to improve the safety of those around you.

  1. Install solar lights on your property to illuminate unsafe passageways.
  2. Install a fence and gate to your backyard to deter intruders or small children from wandering around.
  3. Lock your gate to help prevent trespassing.
  4. If you have a pool, make sure the gate has a fence and lockable gate around it. 
  5. Keep all walkways and stairways free of clutter. 
  6. Put warning signs up (such as ‘beware of dog’)  that inform people of potential hazards on your property. 

The takeaway

  • Don’t assume your property is safe
  • Walk around your property and assess what could be potentially dangerous
  • You are legally responsible to protect children from attractive nuisances on your property

Safeguarding visitors from your home is your responsibility as the homeowner. Purchasing the appropriate amount of liability insurance is only the first step when you buy a house. The second step is making sure you never need it by preventing or protecting from potential hazards.

Lauren Ward

Lauren Ward is a writer for Coverage.com. She specializes in all things personal finance, including insurance, loans, and real estate.

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