Are “not responsible for accidents” signs really helpful in preventing lawsuits or claims against your insurance?

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Are “not responsible for accidents” signs really helpful in preventing lawsuits or claims against your insurance?

My concern is about a large play structure in our yard. While it is sturdy and makes use of all available safety features, obviously you can’t completely accident proof it. We live next to a rental house that recently became occupied by a family with children. We can’t afford at this time to put a fence up, (though that is the goal), but I worry that, kids being kids, at some time they might wander over without our knowledge or permission and become injured. If I post “keep off” and a “not responsible for accidents” signs, would that be beneficial to us in the event something happens?

Asked on August 7, 2011 Missouri

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, those "play at your own risk," "keep off," etc. signs are only of limited value against children. Children are assumed to not have the decision-making capacity of adults and to require protection from their own impulses; that's why, for example, pools need to be gated or enclosed--they are considered "attractive nuisances" that draw children in.

Pools are the worst potentially "liability magnet," though; other structures tend not to put homeowners at as much risk. Generally speaking, if children come over clearly without invitation and the structure is well-made and clearly on your land, you'd have a good chance to avoid liability, with or without the signs; the signs, while they don't hurt to have them up, add little. However, if, for example, you or your children invite the neighbor kids over to play on your structure, that could increase if your liability, if the circumstances under which they do could lead the neighbor kids to think they can come over at will to play. Your best bet, therefore, is to act in a such a fashion that it is clear and consistent that either outside children are not allowed on the structure at all, or at least that it's clear no one is allowed on except with your permissing, when you are there and supervising. But you have to bear in mind that while you can reduce your exposure by acting in a way that makes it clear that you are not giving other kids a license to play on the structure at will, there is no way to render youself 100% liablity proof--that is, after all, why you have insurance in the first place.


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