He may be trespassing, but you're still potentially liable

In his lighthearted and engaging book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir, author Bill Bryson describes growing up in a mid-west town in the 1950s. In one story, he recounts how at about age four, he wandered down his street to visit a friend. Finding no one at home, he decided to wile away the time playing on his friend's jungle gym. Although he's not sure how it happened, Bryson managed to tumble off and break his leg. Despite the fact that Bryson was technically trespassing, his friend, or rather his friend's parents, could have potentially been held liable for Bryson's injury.

As Bryson's story demonstrates, enticements like swimming pools, play sets or even a backyard barbecue set may prove irresistible to a young child. Bryson was fortunate that he only broke his leg and suffered no lasting damage. Over 2,000 children are seen in emergency rooms every year because of accidents involving spas and swimming pools. Those injuries can include severe brain injury, disembowelment and other horrendous and life-threatening injuries. Property owners who fail to put proper safeguards in place may be held liable for any injuries that occur, even to trespassers, on their property.

As a homeowner or landlord, it is critical to fix any hazardous conditions on your property to protect you from liability in the event of an accident. Swimming pools, for example, should be fenced off. Gardening tools and chemicals are best kept under lock and key. Avoid buying play sets with metal play equipment that could become so hot it could burn tender skin. Put away any leashes or tie out equipment used to keep animals close by.

Following these and other common sense safety precautions will help keep all visitors, invited or not, out of harms way. Should the unthinkable occur, these precautions might help prevent you from being held liable.