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RI Top Court: Teen Injured Trespassing at ‘Haunted’ Building knew risk; NO Liability

Haunted Premises Trespassing Liability

Child injured while trespassing

The Rhode Island Supreme Court, which normally sits in Providence, recently issued a ruling in a premises liability and personal injury case of Burton v. State of Rhode Island, involving teenagers trespassing on property owned by the State of RI. The RI Top Court ruled that a 17 year old boy was not entitled to recover any damages for his injuries as a result of being severely burned at the remains of an old abandoned mental health hospital known as the “Ladd Center.”  The Ladd center is located in Exeter, RI.  At the time of the accident, several adolescents were searching for ghosts at the abandoned ‘Ladd Center’. The RI Top Court described the property as the “reputedly haunted remains of the Ladd Center” Read the Providence Lower Court Superior Court Decision here

Teenagers injured while trespassing

( Editor’s notes: This is a very interesting premises liability case because the Supreme Court of Rhode Island only rarely  has decided issues based on the attractive nuisance doctrine. Most Rhode Island property liability claims that are decided by the Top Court are slip and fall or trip and fall claims.)

The boys did not find any ghosts but did find  glass bottles of an unknown liquid  substance. Id. As the boys were leaving, one of the four bottles broke and sulpheric acid splashed onto the plaintiff causing him to be severely burned. Id

Attractive nuisance doctrine

The trespassing teenager admitted that he was trespassing, but  nevertheless sought to obtain personal injury damages against the owner of the property, the State of Rhode Island.  The teen’s Rhode Island Personal Injury Attorney argued that the teen should be compensated for the injuries based on the ‘attractive nuisance doctrine’. The negligence lawyer asserted that RI was negligent and the state’s negligence caused his client severe injuries. The plaintiff relied on the “attractive nuisance doctrine” to  assert that Rhode Island was at fault for his severe burns on his legs. The mishap occurred at an old closed down abandoned hospital which had been closed for nearly 10 years. Plaintiff drank a couple of beers and set out to the abandoned building with his teenage friends. This was not the teens first foray into this run down abandoned building. He had been there 2 times previously. Id.

Explore the abandoned hospital building

Predictably, the teens did not request permission to visit the property. Obviously, the teens knew that the entering into the building was prohibited and was dangerous as there were no trespassing signs and the building was boarded up. There was no fence surrounding the property or the building. The RI Supreme Court stated “in the years since, it has acquired a reputation in certain quarters as a home for ghosts and things that go bump in the night.” Id.“Undaunted by the numerous obstacles to access, the group shimmied up a pipe to access a third-story window. Once inside, the group began to explore the abandoned hospital building. Although they failed to discover any ghosts, they did encounter the detritus of “medical-like tools, * * * bed frames, * * * broken stuff” left behind when the Center closed.” Id.

“Eventually, the group made an intriguing discovery—a cache of four clear glass bottles housed in a Styrofoam container inside a locker. The bottles appeared to be gallon-sized and contained a clear liquid;the labels on the bottles were decrepit and illegible. L.V. testified that he poured a small amount of liquid from one of the bottles onto a table, to see what it was. It was apparent to the group that the liquid had a syrup-like consistency and that it was not water. The plaintiff testified that he believed the bottle contained a hazardous material. Despite not knowing what substance was contained in the vessels, the group spirited away three of the bottles.” Id.

This RI accident case was filed in Providence Superior Court in 2006 when the attorney for the plaintiff filed a lawsuit seeking to be compensated for pain and suffering, scarring and other injuries. The Providence Injury lawyers asserted that several defendant’s “negligently failed to inspect, repair and/or maintain its premises free from defect and/or dangerous condition.”” Id.


“It is a well-established principle of law that property owners owe no duty of care to trespassers but to refrain from wanton or willful conduct; and even then, only upon discovering a trespasser in a position of danger.” Hill v. National Grid, 11 A.3d 110, 113 (R.I. 2011). 

EXCEPTION TO LAW: The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine may apply if a child is trespassing

Under the Restatement (Second) Torts
§ 339 at 197 (1965):
“A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm to
children trespassing thereon caused by an artificial condition upon
the land if
“(a) the place where the condition exists is one upon which
the possessor knows or has reason to know that children are likely
to trespass, and
“(b) the condition is one of which the possessor knows or
has reason to know and which he realizes or should realize will
involve 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 with it or in
coming within the area made dangerous by it, and
“(d) the utility to the possessor of maintaining the condition
and the burden of eliminating the danger are slight as compared
with the risk to children involved, and
“(e) the possessor fails to exercise reasonable care to
eliminate the danger or otherwise to protect the children.”

RI Supreme Court Decision: There is no Liability under attractive nuisance doctrine.

REASONING OF HIGH COURT: “Regrettably, plaintiff was old enough to appreciate the risk of breaking into an abandoned building and of transporting a substance he “had reason to believe” was hazardous; his injury was the result of a failure to protect himself, rather than an inability to protect himself.Accordingly , it was not clearly erroneous for the trial justice to hold that plaintiff failed to establish that he was too young to appreciate the risk, and thus that the doctrine of attractive nuisance is inapplicable to this case. In the case at bar the RI supreme Court held oral arguments at Central Falls high school in the city of Central falls adjacent to Pawtucket yet near Providence, RI.

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