Does the “attractive nuisance” doctrine still apply in California

For many years the law in California that governs a property owner’s liability adhered to the precept that the legal status of the person who was injured on the property made a difference. The law classed people who entered onto the property of another into categories such as “invitees” or “licensees” or “trespassers” — all depending on what degree of permission, if any, they had to be on the property of the landholder where they were harmed.

Trespassers (those on the property of another without permission to be there) were given less protection under the law if they suffered injury. But premises liability law eventually carved out a sub-group of trespassers — children — to whom property holders owed a different level of legal duty than to ordinary trespassers, particularly when there existed on the property items or conditions that children might find irresistible to investigate (for example, pools, open pits, and abandoned machinery and equipment).


This child-based consideration under premises liability law was known as the “attractive nuisance” doctrine.

California no longer uses the doctrine of attractive nuisance, having cast doubt on its utility in 1968 in the case of Rowland v. Christian (69 Cal. 2d 110) and finally doing away with it in 1970 in Beard v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company (4 Cal.App. 3d 130). 

What this means today is that if your child trespasses onto another’s property and is injured there, his or her status as a trespasser or as a child is no longer the deciding factor in determining whether the property owner owed a duty to protect against harmful conditions on the property. Instead, in California landholders are liable to anyone for harm suffered on their property, including trespassing children, for negligent acts or dangerous conditions on the property that led to the harm. 

This post cannot provide a comprehensive treatment of California premises liability law, and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have questions about premises liability or any other California law, you should consider seeking advice from an attorney licensed in this state.