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Child Safety Hazards Lurking Around the House

The tragic, high-profile story of a Utah toddler who died after falling into a top-loading washing machine has shined a spotlight on the issue of child safety in the home. The boy's mother left him for just a few minutes, but that was enough time for him to climb up onto the washer, fall in, and drown.

Sadly, this story isn't unique; there are reports of other children who have died in similar accidents over the years. In addition to laundry room hazards, there are other potential safety issues in the average American home, any one of which could result in the death or serious injury of a vulnerable child. Knowing what sort of dangers actually exist that could affect a child is a vital step in understanding how to remain vigilant about their protection. Having a working knowledge of household hazards is also an important part of protecting yourself from legal liability that could fall to you if the child of a friend, neighbor, family member or other visitor is injured in your home.

The Most Dangerous Areas for a Child

Laundry rooms are one of the most dangerous areas in the home for children. In addition to the obvious threat of drowning in a full washing machine, there is also the possibility of a child's arm of leg being caught in the spinning agitator of a running washer and the likelihood of a burn/scald injury if the child touches too-warm water in a wash cycle. Dryers present a litany of other threats, including burns from touching hot machine components and becoming trapped in front-loading machines.

Laundry rooms are one of the more dangerous areas in the home for children, but the most hazardous room is arguably the bathroom, and not just for the reasons you may think. Of course, children can easily drown in a full bathtub if they are unsupervised, but most people don't realize that it only takes about an inch of water to drown a child - something that can easily be found in a sink or toilet basin in addition to a tub. Children who lean over standing water - often to drop in toys or to mimic the actions of a household pet - can easily fall in and be too weak or uncoordinated to extract themselves. Parents can also unwittingly scald their children by having the water temperature set too high; anything over 120 degrees can burn a child's delicate skin.

An Epidemic of Child Injuries From a Surprising Source

As television prices continue to drop, more and more families are purchasing larger sets for home viewing. While the picture might be clearer on a bigger screen, a larger tv is much more of a hazard for a curious child. The American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention says that the rate of injuries caused by falling televisions has reached the status of a "mini-epidemic." In the last decade, nearly 200 children under the age of eight were killed when they were crushed under falling tv sets. Most of those occurred in homes where a too-large television was placed on a small, inadequately stable support or one where a child could use shelves or drawers to attempt to climb up, inadvertently pulling the television down on themselves.

Children are also increasingly being injured by swallowing lithium batteries and becoming entangled in cords from electronic exercise equipment. Those two seemingly innocuous common household items injure tens of thousands of children a year.

How a Child's Injury Legally Affects a Homeowner

If you are going to open your home up to child-aged visitors, you need to take reasonable steps to protect their safety. Taking no safety precautions can result in a legal duty to both pay for and be held responsible for the injuries. Even basic precautions like gating off swimming pools and hot tubs or letting the water fully drain from the bathtub after you are finished having a soak can make a world of difference.

The rules regarding premises liability (those where the owner or possessor of a property is held responsible for personal injuries sustained by a person while on the property) claims involving children are different from those dealing with visitors, trespassers or invitees who are of age.

To protect children from harm (and him or herself from liability), a homeowner should:

  • Give adequate warning to any and all children who may come on to the property that there is a dangerous condition/situation/area on the property
  • Give adequate warning that the dangerous condition is likely to cause death or serious bodily harm

The law dictates that liability should be found where the owner or possessor of the property has failed to either remove the danger or eliminate it in order to protect children and that the need to maintain the hazardous condition outweighs the chance of a child being injured.

Premises liability claims, like other legal matters, can be complex. If you are involved in one - or think you may be - speak with a skilled personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.