Blackburn Ltd. P’ship v. Paul – Liability for Child Pool Trespassers

In tort law, property owners may be freed of responsibility for injuries sustained by those who are trespassing on the property. One great exception is the principle of attractive nuisance, and it’s a particularly powerful basis for personal injury litigation when the injured party is a young child.
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The attractive nuisance doctrine holds that children, because of their lack of maturity, are unable to understand or appreciate the risks or danger of being on a premises. Therefore, if a property is accessible to young children and existing hazards on that property cause harm to a child, the owner can be held liable.

Our swimming pool injury lawyers know swimming pools are one of the most common sources of attractive nuisances in liability lawsuits, and these incidents are on the rise as temperatures increase and kids spend more time unsupervised during the summer break.

The recent case of Blackburn Ltd. P’ship v. Paul addresses the liability of an apartment complex owner when a 3-year-old boy nearly drowned in the on-site pool. The Maryland Supreme Court offered review.

According to court records, it was around 9 a.m. in the middle of June when a 3-year-old boy and his 10-year-old brother were playing outside of their mother and father’s apartment complex. At some point, the older boy lost track of his brother. A panicked search began, and the toddler was ultimately found submerged in the water.

He was rushed to the hospital, but sustained severe brain injuries. He cannot talk, walk, eat or move on his own. He is also now blind, and doctors don’t believe his condition will ever improve.

The petitioner filed a lawsuit against the owner of the apartment complex, seeking $15 million in compensatory damages for medical expenses, plus interest. The claimant alleged negligence on behalf of the apartment complex for failure to maintain the pool in a reasonably safe condition for all residents of all ages.

The defendants argued that they should not be held liable because the plaintiffs failed to comply with pool regulations that required the child to be properly supervised by an adult at all times. Additionally, they indicated that the young boy was a trespasser in the pool area, and therefore they did not owe him a significant duty of care.

The circuit court sided with the defendant, finding that the moment he crossed the gate into the pool area, he became a trespasser, rather than an invitee, and as such, the property owner owed only a limited duty of care – namely the duty to avoid willful and wanton misconduct or entrapment. There had been no evidence in this case to suggest that such negligence had been committed.

Upon appeal, the court of special appeals reversed, and the Maryland Supreme Court affirmed. The reasoning was that the defendants were required to comply with relevant state regulations concerning pool barriers. The court found that this violation alone, rather than establishment of common-law duty to the plaintiff, was grounds enough to be used as evidence of negligence.

As derived from the statute, the duty of care to the young boy would be established regardless of the child’s legal status on the property at the time the incident occurred.

Contact our Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Blackburn Ltd. P’ship v. Paul, April 28, 2014, Maryland Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Building Code Violations Resulting in Injury, April 28, 2014, Anderson Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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