Law School Case Brief
Reynolds v. Willson - 51 Cal. 2d 94, 331 P.2d 48 (1958)
A possessor of land is subject to liability for bodily harm to young children trespassing thereon caused by a structure or other artificial condition which he maintains upon the land, if (a) the place where the condition is maintained is one upon which the possessor knows or should know that such children are likely to trespass, and (b) the condition is one of which the possessor knows or should know and which he realizes or should realize as involving an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to such children, and (c) the children because of their youth, do not discover the condition or realize the risk involved in intermeddling in it or in coming within the area made dangerous by it, and (d) the utility to the possessor of maintaining the condition is slight as compared to the risk to young children involved therein.
Plaintiff minor, who was two years old at the time of the accident, climbed out of his bedroom window and made his way to defendant neighbors' swimming pool, which had been left partially filled at the end of the season and had become slippery due to algae. The minor was found lying face down in the water and suffered permanent damage to his brain and nervous system. The minor, through his father, brought an action in the Superior Court of Fresno County (California), against defendant neighbors for injuries suffered as a result of the near drowning. The jury returned a verdict for the minor, and the trial court denied the neighbors' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The neighbors appealed.
Was there sufficient substantial evidence to support the verdict on any tenable theory of liability?
The court found that the jury could reasonably have found for the minor on two theories of recovery. Under the first theory, the pool was an artificial structure, and there was evidence that the neighboring property owners knew that children were likely to trespass. Additionally, the pool was in such a condition that the property owners realized or should have realized the unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to children and that, because of his youth, the minor did not realize the risk involved. Finally, the cost of making it safe against children, a $25 gate, was slight as compared to the risk to young children trespassing thereon. The minor could also have recovered under the "trap" theory, based on the property owners' partial filling of the pool, making it an unusual risk and more attractive to young children.
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