Bennett v. Stanley
92 Ohio St.3d 35, 748 N.E.2d 41 (2001)

  • The Bennetts lived next door to the Stanleys, who owned a swimming pool. The swimming pool was abandoned but was half full of rainwater and had frogs and algae growing in it.
    • There was a gap in the fence between the two properties. The Stanleys knew that unsupervised children lived next door, and there were no warning signs or safety features. Nor was there a 'no trespassing' sign.
  • The Bennetts' son entered the property and fell in the pool. Ms. Bennett entered the pool to save the son, but both drowned.
  • The remaining Bennetts sued the Stanleys for negligence.
    • Bennett argued that the pool created an unreasonable risk of harm to children who would not realize the potential danger.
  • The Trial Court found for Stanley on summary judgment. Bennett appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the Bennetts were trespassers.
      • The only duty owed to trespassers is the duty to refrain from willful, wanton, and reckless conduct.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Bennett appealed.
  • The Ohio Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for trial.
    • The Ohio Supreme Court noted that the duty of care owed to children is different than that owed to adults.
    • The Court looked to the dangerous instrumentality exception owed to child trespassers.
      • The dangerous instrumentality exception basically says that since children cannot readily foresee danger, there is a duty to protect them from potentially dangerous items, even when they are trespassing.
    • Restatement of Torts 339 says that a landlord can be liable for physical harm to a child trespasser caused by an artificial condition if:
      • The landlord knows about the condition and knows children are likely to trespass.
      • The condition could cause an unreasonable risk of harm.
      • The children do not discover or realize the risk.
      • The costs to maintaining/eliminating the danger are slight in comparison to the risk.
      • The landlord fails to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the risk and protect the children.
      • This is also known as the attractive nuisance doctrine.
      • This doesn't include dangerous natural conditions (like a cliff), only dangerous artificial conditions created by the landowner (like a minefield).
    • The Court adopted the attractive nuisance doctrine, and remanded the case to a jury find if the swimming pool met the definition.
    • The Court also ruled that the mother who died in an attempted rescue "assumes the status of the child" and thus was also owed a duty of reasonable care.
      • Could the mother also have been considered a rescuer as opposed to a trespasser and thus be covered under the rescue doctrine?
  • This case overturned the older turntable doctrine, which said that it is not the duty of a landowner to exercise care to make it safe for children who are trespassing, only those that are invitees.
    • Apparently a lot of kids in Ohio were getting hurt playing with 'railroad turntables' and the railroads were able to avoid liability.
  • Unlike most of the sections of the Restatement of Torts, 339 actually took what was the minority view at the time. In a way it charted new law and shaped the direction of the law, as opposed to just "restating" it.