The law treats children differently in many respects.
In criminal courts, for example, juvenile courts aim for rehabilitation rather than punishment.
In civil court, children are often granted exceptions in terms of their understanding of danger and liability. One example of this is seen in the doctrine of attractive nuisance. The principle holds it is the property owner’s responsibility to protect children from on-site hazards that may be present and which might be attractive to children and yet inherently dangerous. The theory holds children are naturally curious and not yet fully developed enough to recognize certain dangers and protect themselves in the same way we might expect adults to do.
Examples of attractive nuisances would be unguarded swimming pools, old appliances or broken down vehicles, wells, stairways and machinery. The theory is a counter to the defense of no duty of care to a child who trespasses on a site.
Usually, however, plaintiffs have to assert in these cases the property owner knew or should have known children may be on the property. This would create the duty of care to protect them.
In the recent case of Ruiz v. Victory Props., LLC, defendant is a landlord who unquestionably knew children were on the site because he rented apartments to their parents.
According to Connecticut Supreme Court records, the landlord had all kinds of litter and debris in the back yard of the multi-family property. That debris included a run-down playground set, discarded appliances and home furnishings, an abandoned vehicle that was in a state of total disrepair and large chunks of concrete from a nearby retaining wall and sidewalk.
It would later be established defendant knew about these hazards because tenants had asked that he clean it, and further, he visited the site monthly to collect rent checks. However, he never cleaned the yard.
One day, a 10-year-old boy grabbed a chunk of discarded concrete from the back yard, ran up to his family apartment’s second story window and, for reasons unclear, dropped the slab onto the head of the 7-year-old neighbor girl, who was standing underneath. She suffered severe head injuries. She had to be hospitalized for two months with a crushed skull. She suffers permanent paralysis on her right side.
Her family later filed a lawsuit alleging negligence against the landlord.
He asserted he could not be held liable as a matter of law because there was no way he could have foreseen a child taking a piece of concrete up to the second story and pitching it off onto the head of another child.
While the landlord was not the one who committed an intentional act against the girl, her family nonetheless asserted injury was foreseeable because it was within the general scope of risk created by defendant’s negligent failure to remove dangerous debris from the back yard.
Trial court granted summary judgment to defendant, finding the injury was not foreseeable, and further, such a ruling might prejudice landlords from renting to other families with young children in the future.
The appellate court reversed, and the state supreme court affirmed that reversal and remanded the case for trial. Justices issuing the reversal noted it was not relevant whether these specific child injuries were foreseeable, but rather that the injuries were proximately caused by landlord’s well-established duty to maintain common areas of the rental property in reasonably safe condition – particularly when children regularly play in those areas.
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Ruiz v. Victory Props., LLC, Jan. 20, 2015, Connecticut Supreme Court
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