United Zinc & Chemical Co. v. Britt

258 U.S. 268, 42 S. Ct. 299 (1922)

 

RULE:

Infants have no greater right to go upon other peoples' land than adults, and the mere fact that they are infants imposes no duty upon landowners to expect them and to prepare for their safety. On the other hand the duty of one who invites another upon his land not to lead him into a trap is well settled, and while it is very plain that temptation is not invitation, it may be held that knowingly to establish and expose, unfenced, to children of an age when they follow a bait as mechanically as a fish, something that is certain to attract them, has the legal effect of an invitation to them although not to an adult. But the principle if accepted must be very cautiously applied.

FACTS:

Appellant chemical company had a plant that made sulfuric acid and zinc spelter. Appellant tore the building down but left a basement and cellar in which water accumulated that was clear, but it was poisoned by the chemicals. A traveled way passed within about 100 feet of the plant. The appellee parents, along with their children, had been traveling and were camped in the area. The children went onto the land and into the water. They were poisoned and died. Appellees sued appellant for negligence to recover damages for the deaths of their children. The trial court found for appellees, and the appellate court affirmed. The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment.

ISSUE:

Could appellant chemical company be held liable for the death of appellees’ children, who went into appellant’s land and into accumulated water that looked clear but was in fact poisonous?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

There was no general duty on the part of a landowner to keep his land safe for children, or even free from hidden dangers, if he had not directly or by implication invited or licensed them to go there. Although appellant chemical company knew the condition of the water, the pool was not visible to the children unless they trespassed and that appellees did not prove that the pool caused the children to trespass or that children were in the habit of going to the plant. Consequently, appellant had no duty to keep the property safe for children when appellant had not directly or by implication invited or licensed them to go to the plant.

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