I know plenty of friends who have allowed their kids to leave their bikes in the front yard. I'm wondering what would happen if a random child were to steal a bike left out and get hurt playing with it. Would the parents be liable due to the attractive nuisance doctrine?
According to Cornell's LII page on "Attractive Nuisance Doctrine" the doctrine or concept is:
A doctrine in tort law under which a landowner may be liable for injuries to children who trespass on land if the injury results from a hazardous object or condition on the land that is likely to attract children who are unable to appreciate the risk posed by the object or condition.
The injury or danger must be reasonably foreseeable to the property owner, but not apparent to a child likely to be attracted to the dangerous object or condition. The object or condition must be such as to attract children likely to be put in danger. An uncovered swimming pool or a disused refrigerator are classic examples of an attractive nuisance
A bicycle would not usually constitute an object of danger to a trespassing child that the child was unable to understand or foresee. A child able to climb on and operate the bicycle is probably aware enough to foresee the ordinary dangers of riding a bicycle. But much would depend on the exact facts of the case. If there was some circumstance that made use of a bicycle more risky than usual, that might alter the decision.
According to the Wikipedia article
The attractive nuisance doctrine emerged from case law in England, starting with Lynch v. Nurdin in 1841. In that case, an opinion by Lord Chief Justice Thomas Denman held that the owner of a cart left unattended on the street could be held liable for injuries to a child who climbed onto the cart and fell. The doctrine was first applied in the United States in Sioux City & Pacific Railroad Co. v. Stout 84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 657 (1873), an 1873 case from Nebraska in which a railroad company was held liable for injuries to a child who climbed onto an unsecured railway turntable. The term "attractive nuisance" was first used in 1875 in Keffe v. Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Co., a Minnesota case. The doctrine has since been adopted in some other common law jurisdictions, such as Canada, but not universally.
According to the Wikipedia article listed above, quoting the Restatement of Torts (second) §339, an attractive nuisance is an artificial hazard which meets all of the following conditions. Natural hazards, such as lakes, do not fit the rule:
- The place where the condition exists is one on which the possessor knows or has reason to know that children are likely to trespass, and
- The condition is one of which the possessor knows or has reason to know and which he realizes or should realize will involve an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to such children,
- The children, because of their youth, do not discover the condition or realize the risk involved in inter-meddling with it or in coming within the area made dangerous by it,
- The utility to the possessor of maintaining the condition and the burden of eliminating the danger are slight as compared with the risk to children involved, and
- The possessor fails to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or otherwise to protect the children.
Some US jurisdictions, such as Maryland, do not follow this rule.