If you’ve bothered to read your homeowners insurance policy (and you really should), you may have noticed the phrase “attractive nuisance.” Not understanding the concept and your potential liability could result in higher insurance premiums. If you’re interested in cheaper homeowners insurance, read on.
What’s an Attractive Nuisance?
Specifically, according to FreeDictionary.com’s legal dictionary, from an insurance company’s perspective attractive nuisance is, “a legal doctrine which makes a person negligent for leaving a piece of equipment or other condition on property that would be both attractive and dangerous to curious children…Liability could be placed on the people owning or controlling the premises even when the child was trespasser who sneaked onto the property.” That same entry notes that some places including California have replaced the attractive nuisance doctrine with one that spells out specific conditions that limit property owner liability only when the hazard represents a “foreseeable danger,” which makes negligence harder to prove.
Specific Examples and Instances
Since it is always best to err on the side of caution, particularly when your assets are involved, you need to know what can constitute a foreseeable danger. The following is a short list. As always, if you’re not sure, contact your homeowner’s insurance carrier and ask.
- Swimming Pools - Many states and jurisdictions require that you fence the area around your swimming pool. They may even specify the type and size of the fence and locking mechanism. Beyond legal compliance, fencing a pool is plain common sense. The same holds true for a fishpond. You might also want to install a system that sounds an alarm if a child or animal falls in the water. Depending on your insurer, it might qualify for a discount on your homeowner’s policy.
- Trampolines, Zip Lines, Tree House and Playground Equipment - If a kid can jump, climb or ride on it, a kid probably will. Limit your liability by limiting access to these attractive nuisances with fences, locks and alarms.
- Cars -- Whether or not the vehicle is operable, don’t let kids play on or near it. Roll up the windows and lock the doors. Ideally, you should garage the vehicle. If you have ride-on tractors, ATVs or anything motorized, cover them and store them in a fenced or enclosed area where kids can’t get at them.
- Power Tools - Never leave power tools or motorized lawn care equipment unsupervised. Even if you’re just stepping away for a few minutes, take the time to make your tools inoperable. Turn off the power and unplug the extension cord. Put your tools in a locked cabinet or locked garage when you’re done using them.
- Construction waste and equipment -You see a pile of debris or a ladder, a child sees a playground of possibilities. Cover your construction waste and dispose of it as soon as possible. Even better, rent a dumpster that you can cover and lock. Put ladders away when you’re not using them.
- Discarded appliances - In addition to being a neighborhood eyesore, old refrigerators, washing machines and ovens are ideal hiding places for kids. Remove doors, or better yet, take the junk to the dump. Your neighbors will thank you.
- Open pits - This category of attractive nuisances includes wells, sinkholes, trenches, ditches or anything a kid, or adult for that matter, could accidentally fall into. Fill them in or cover them up securely.
- Dogs - It has become increasingly difficult to find homeowners coverage if you own certain breeds of dogs. But any dog can bite, and you can be sued into poverty whether it was a Shi Tzu or a Rottweiler that took a chunk out of a curious kid or one that is teasing it. If you have a dog, keep it behind a fence -- the kind a kid can’t stick his fingers through -- or in an area that is not accessible to passers-by.
Have Adequate Liability Protection
Standard homeowners and renter’s insurance policies provide between $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage per event, according to the Insurance Information Institute. If you have a pool, you should definitely opt for the higher figure. However, if you have a lot to lose, you’re already a lawsuit waiting to happen, in which case you might want to look into adding umbrella coverage to your policy. For a few more dollars a year on your annual premium, an umbrella policy will kick in with additional liability when you reach the limits of your standard coverage. You can learn more about homeowners insurance, renter’s insurance and personal umbrella policies here and shop for competitive quotes.