Philadelphia Businesses Must Secure Buildings to Avoid Liability for Child/Teen Accidents

It is crucial for businesses in densely populated areas, like Philadelphia, to secure their buildings to prevent access by teens and children. Failure to do so can lead to a tragic, fatal accident. Under Pennsylvania law, property owners can be held liable when a teen or child who trespasses on the property and is injured or killed in an accident. Wrongful death actions and survival claims are likely.

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Last month, a young teen was killed after he and other teens entered a local paper company and rode on forklifts for fun. The accident occurred when the 13 year old was riding in a forklift.

The tragic accident occurred in Philadelphia’s Wissinoming section, which is located about 5 miles from downtown Frankford. The area is home to many businesses including small factories and industrial companies.

Law enforcement is investigating; it’s unclear whether any charges will be filed. However, given the nature of the accident, criminal charges would be unlikely.

Foreseeability – The Bedrock of Civil Injury Lawsuits

Duty to Patrons

A civil lawsuit would depend on whether the local company could have foreseen the accident. Under civil law principles, any person or business can be held liable if there was reason to anticipate that the accident would or could occur. Private businesses generally have a duty to take reasonable care to protect patrons from known dangers. For example, a local business has a duty to fix a broken stairway.

Related: Pennsylvania Wrongful Death & Survival Lawsuits

Duty to Trespassers

But what about non-patrons, people who enter a business premises without permission? Usually, the duty of care doesn’t apply to people who are trespassing. Here’s an example which explains this point. A criminal enters a building intending to commit theft. He trips on a broken stairway and breaks his leg. The building owner would not be liable because there is no duty to warn trespassers of dangerous conditions of the premises.

An Exception – The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

There is, however, an exception to the general rule of no liability to trespassers. A property owner may be liable for a child or teen’s accident when the owner has reason to know that children trespasses on the property. This doctrine is known as the attractive nuisance doctrine. Access a previous law article which discusses this principle and how businesses in PA can be held liable for injuries to children and teens.

In a nutshell, a property owner (business or individual) can be held liable to a child trespasser when two facts are proven: 1. the child is injured in an accident involving a man-made structure or machine, and 2. the owner had prior knowledge that children were coming to the premises.

In the most recent case, the paper company could be liable if it had received prior reports of teens entering the property. That knowledge would serve as the basis of liability.

Businesses and individuals alike must take reasonable care of their properties to avoid tragic accidents like the most recent forklift accident in Philadelphia. If children are attracted to your property, you must take reasonable steps to prevent them from entering or accessing dangerous equipment, or you must resolve dangerous conditions.

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