By Philip J. Outhier
As summer approaches, we begin to spend more time outdoors. Picnics and swimming parties fill our leisure time, fishermen head to local ponds, and children play on backyard swing-sets until dark. When the weather warms up, every landowner should be mindful of the standard of duty of safety and care owed to people who come on to his or her property.
In Oklahoma, the duty of care landowners owe to those who come onto their property depends on whether the person is invited or is trespassing. Social guests, business customers, and people performing services for the landowner may expect the landowner to use reasonable care to keep the property safe. In practical terms that means fencing swimming pools and making lifesaving devices available. Landowners should also regularly inspect playhouses, sand boxes, and swing-sets for defects and immediately correct problems. If there is any danger the landowner is aware but which is not obvious, the landowner must give some type of warning to visitors.
However, landowners may allow hunters and fishermen access to their property without taking on additional liability if the sportsmen are injured.
The only duty a landowner owes a trespasser is to refrain from causing willful injury. However, if the landowner has reason to know that people are regularly trespassing on the property, he may have a duty to make the area safe if he can’t prevent the trespassing.
Notably, however, special obligations arise to trespassing children. The doctrine of “attractive nuisance” states that a landowner of potentially hazardous property may be responsible for injuries to trespassing children if the injury is caused by a hazardous object or condition that is likely to attract children. An “attractive nuisance” is a structure or condition of property that is both dangerous and irresistible to children. These structures or conditions must be artificial, and include abandoned property, such as vehicles or appliances. Common examples of attractive nuisances include swimming pools, trampolines, railroads, ponds, and constructions sites or equipment.
It is a good practice for a landowners to assess all of the artificial conditions on their property that may pose a threat to children, determine if children are likely to trespass, and then take steps to either eliminate the condition or ensure that a trespassing child will not come into contact with the condition.
Of course, landowners also should regularly review their homeowners’ insurance policies to be aware of what protections are included or available. Check with your insurance provider for up-to- date information. If we can help you ensure you have taken all necessary precautions, please call us at 234-6300.