Summer is the season for trespassing on attractive nuisances

August 1, 2013

On a blazing hot day, a leap from the rocks into the cold depths of a tiny swimming hole may be the best thing about summer. If it took a bit of a search and a hike, or a fence to slip under, all the better for sustaining that feeling of secrecy that’s part of what makes visiting attractive nuisances, like swimming holes, great.

attractive nuisances

A swimming hole near Austin, Texas. Image by Evan Bench.

That is, unless you own the property. Private property laws vary, but generally, the way it goes is, if it’s your property, you might be liable for any injuries that occur there, whether or not the injured person was invited onto your land or illegally trespassing.

This causes some anxiety for well-meaning property owners who may find themselves in possession of an irresistible swimming hole. Land features like swimming holes require extra care on the part of the property owner due to a common provision called “attractive nuisance.” Attractive nuisance laws vary from county to county, and there’s no fixed list of what constitutes an attractive nuisance, but it can range anywhere from a swimming hole to an abandoned mine shaft.

The defining characteristic is that the feature is attractive to children who are neither old enough nor wise enough to asses the risks and fend off the temptation of hurting themselves on another person’s property. It therefore falls on the property owner to protect the area from any known hazards, and post appropriate signage.

attractive nuisances

A private property sign for all seasons explicitly states that no swimming or ice skating is allowed. From MySecuritySign.

In Monroe, Michigan, Bill Gross, owner of a placid lake off of a highway, complained to Monroe News, the local paper, that teenagers and young adults were trespassing onto the property and cannon-balling from the rocky ledges surrounding the serene, blue water.

Danger may be lurking under the water, especially for the more daring divers. In Tishomingo, Oklahoma, teens have taken to climbing to the roof of a pump house and leaping some 30 feet into the 10-foot deep swimming hole below. But that sweet spot of depth is a small target for the uninitiated, and sometimes, jumpers land on surrounding rocks just below the surface.

Tishomingo rescuers say they’ve been called in to rescue injured swimmers four times in three days. Two of them had to be airlifted from the swimming hole to nearby hospitals. One of them may be paralyzed from the waist down.

Injuries, and even deaths, happen at swimming holes. One bad jump is certain disaster for the swimmer, and possibly for the property owner.

Any property owner interested in limiting his or her responsibility towards trespassers should look into their local laws and post their property, meaning put up signs explicitly stating that trespassers are not allowed. These signs should be located in close, regular intervals so that any wandering hiker will see them.

attractive nuisances

A boy swings into The Devil’s Sinkhole in Florida. Image by Mason Berry.

Bill Gross, the lake owner in Monroe, Michigan, however has found another approach to dealing with his beautiful attractive nuisance. Rather than spending his energies shooing away swimmers for the entirety of this summer and all summers to come, he’s building a park on the banks of the lake to more safely manage the visitors. Until that’s done though, the lake is for trespassers only.

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Category: Property, Trespassing

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