Swimming Pools, Trespassing Children and the Threat of Civil Liability

I still remember when I was 13 and the feeling of jumping into my parent's above-ground pool after cutting the grass on a hot July afternoon.  There is something about the Georgia heat that makes diving into a swimming pool one of life's most refreshing experiences.

While swimming pools are a staple for escaping the Southern heat in Georgia, few people understand how dangerous pools can be for children.  According to the CDC's website, residential swimming pools are the leading cause of drowning deaths for children age 1-4.  Few people know that in Georgia, if a trespassing child drowns in a swimming pool on your property, then you can be liable to pay damages to that child's family.

Enter The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine, a Georgia law doctrine that has been the subject of common law legal debate for years.  Generally, a landowner has a very limited duty to protect trespassers from risks of harm on his or her property.  The Court, however, has made a special exception for trespassing children, since they lack the ability to truly comprehend the danger and possible risks associated with trespassing on unfamiliar property. 

The attractive nuisance doctrine states that land owners are required to keep their property free of dangers that are accessible to and could cause harm to trespassing children.  See Gregory v Johnson, 249 Ga. 151 (1982).  Note that the key word here is accessible.  The Court is clear that land owners are not required to keep their entire property free of anything that could cause a child harm, instead the landowner must take reasonable steps to ensure that those dangers are not accessible to a trespassing child. 

Some courts have held that this doctrine only applies to man-made risks of harm and not natural ones such as creeks, ponds or trees.  Others have disagreed.  However, almost all courts agree that this doctrine applies to residential swimming pools.

Swimming pool owners are thus required to take reasonable steps on their property to protect trespassing children from the dangers associated with swimming pool accidents.  Just what is considered a reasonable step?  For example, courts have held that building a well maintained fence with a locked gate around a pool was a reasonable step, and thus the pool owner was not subject to liability. Odom v. Lee, 145 Ga. App. 304 (1978).

So the question remains, should courts punish pool owners under the attractive nuisance theory for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent danger to trespassing children?  Most courts think so.  Or is this simply passing the blame away from parents who fail to accurately supervise their child? 

One thing is for sure, a person should always take reasonable steps to ensure that any dangerous attractive nuisance on their property is not accessible to a trespassing child to keep all children safe and to avoid any potential liability.