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If my child is injured in a neighbor’s yard, who is responsible?

It is summer in New Jersey, and rather than have your kids cooped up in the house all day playing online games, you send them outside to get some fresh air, sunshine and exercise. Soon, one of your neighbors lets you know that she saw your kids and their friends exploring another neighbor’s property, which is unkempt and full of interesting but potentially dangerous items. If your child suffered an injury in that neighbor’s yard, would the neighbor be liable or would you be responsible, since your kids were trespassing?

Ordinarily, trespassing laws would side with the property owner if the trespasser was old enough to know better because people cannot legally be on private property without the owner’s permission. However, you know that children do not always follow the rules, and their curiosity may get the better of them. Therefore, attractive nuisance laws serve to protect children from a serious or fatal injury on someone else’s property caused by a preventable hazard. To put it simply, a homeowner who knows there is a dangerous feature on his property that may attract children must take reasonable measures to keep children off the property or eliminate the hazard. This may include the following:

  • Putting up warning signs about an aggressive watchdog or only letting the dog in the yard when the owner is outside to supervise
  • Locking dangerous power tools and equipment in the garage or a secure shed
  • Demolishing decrepit outbuildings on the property
  • Covering wells and fencing off irrigation ditches
  • Installing a locked fence around a swimming pool
  • Building a high fence around the backyard and keeping it locked

You may reduce your children’s chances of harm by talking to them about not going onto neighbors’ property. However, if your neighbors know their yards can be dangerous for children, they may be liable if they failed to take precautions and a child sustains an injury.

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