McWilliams v. Guzinski, No. 77

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Writing for the CourtDAY; ROBERT W. HANSEN
Citation237 N.W.2d 437,71 Wis.2d 57
Parties, 87 A.L.R.3d 871 Petra McWILLIAMS, Respondent, v. Thomas GUZINSKI, Sr., et al., Appellants. (1974).
Decision Date20 January 1976
Docket NumberNo. 77

Page 437

237 N.W.2d 437
71 Wis.2d 57, 87 A.L.R.3d 871
Petra McWILLIAMS, Respondent,
v.
Thomas GUZINSKI, Sr., et al., Appellants.
No. 77 (1974).
Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
Argued Sept. 29, 1975.
Decided Jan. 20, 1976.

[71 Wis.2d 60] Kasdorf, Henderson, Dall, Lewis & Swietlik, Russell Ware (argued), Milwaukee, for appellants; James R. Gass, Milwaukee, of counsel.

Samson, Friebert, Sutton, Finerty & Burns, Milwaukee, for respondent; Robert E. Sutton, and Thomas W. St. John (argued), Milwaukee, of counsel.

DAY, Justice.

The order appealed from overrules the defendants' demurrer and the question here is whether the complaint states a cause of

Page 438

action in negligence under the 'attractive nuisance' doctrine. 1

The action was brought by the mother of a deceased child for damages sustained by her as a result of the drowning of her four-year-old son, Joseph, in a backyard swimming pool owned by the defendants, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Guzinski. It is alleged that the pool is surrounded by a fence constructed in a 'basket weave' manner, presenting a 'natural stepladder' at each support post. The sole allegation in the complaint concerning the fence's gates is 'that on July 11, 1972 there were two gates in the fence and that on information and belief on July 11, 1972 and at all times material hereto neither of those gates were locked.'

For a substantial period of time prior to the drowning, children of 'tender years' had allegedly been accustomed to playing in the swimming pool, and the defendants knew of such activity. The deceased, Joseph Ajack, resided in the vicinity of the Guzinski home and allegedly waded, swam, and played in the swimming pool frequently[71 Wis.2d 61] with other children, and with the defendants' knowledge.

At about 4:30 P.M. on July 11, 1972, Joseph was playing and wading in and about the swimming pool, and was allegedly unaware that without proper supervision there are inherent dangers involved in wading and playing in a swimming pool. Joseph got into the swimming pool area, fell into the pool, and drowned. The complaint alleges that Joseph was 'unaware of the danger and hazard incident thereto . . .' and further alleges that he was 'attracted thereby and allured thereto.'

The complaint alleges that the defendants negligently failed to guard and protect the swimming pool 'in such a way that it would be impossible for children to get to and into the swimming pool in their usual practice of playing and running around the swimming pool . . .,' that defendants negligently failed to maintain a proper fence with locked gates so as to make the same safe for children who might be attracted to the swimming pool, and that they failed to 'provide any protection or safeguard of any kind for children and infants known to be attracted to and using the swimming pool and playing in and about the same . . .,' that the swimming pool was attractive to children, and was known by the defendants to be likely to attract and allure children to play in and around the same, and that the negligence of the defendants was the sole and proximate cause of the death of Joseph.

The allegations of the complaint are designed to bring the case within the doctrine of attractive nuisance, the requirements for which have been recently set forth in the case of Kempen v. Green Bay & Miss. Canal Co. (1974), 66 Wis.2d 185, 187, 224 N.W.2d 202, which reiterated the language originally used in Angelier v. Red Star Yeast (1934), 215 Wis. 47, 53, 254 N.W. 351, 353:

(1) '. . . that the . . . (possessor of real estate) maintained on, or allowed to exist upon his land, an artificial[71 Wis.2d 62] condition which was inherently dangerous to children being upon his premises;'

(2) 'that he knew or should have known that children trespassed or were likely to trespass upon his premises;'

(3) 'that he realized or should have realized that the structure erected or the artificial condition maintained by him was inherently dangerous to children and involved an unreasonable risk of serious bodily injury or death to them;'

(4) 'that the injured child, because of his youth or tender age, did not discover the condition or realize the risk involved in going within the area, or in playing in

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close proximity to the inherently dangerous condition;'

(5) 'and that safeguards could reasonably have been provided which would have obviated the inherent danger without materially interfering with the purpose for which the artificial condition was maintained.'

We hold here that an insufficiently guarded swimming pool maintained in a residential area may be inherently dangerous to a child four years of age. Having determined this, the question becomes what precautionary steps the owner must take to eliminate the danger, such as are reasonable and do not materially interfere with use of the pool. The allegation as to the 'basket-weave' nature of the fence lacks sufficient specificity to indicate that the fence was not a reasonable safeguard, and while the complaint does say that it could be climbed, the height of that fence is not set forth, nor the ease or lack of it with which a four-year old could surmount such obstacle. However, the complaint does allege that there were two gates which were not locked and, as we must permit 'all reasonable inferences' from the allegations in the construction of a complaint on demurrer (Purtell v. Tehan (1966), 29 Wis.2d 631, 139 N.W.2d 655), the inference that the unlocked gate made the pool accessible to his four-year-old child either because it was in fact open, or because it was easily pushed open, may be made. We do not agree with the complaint that a pool owner must make it 'impossible' for children to get into the pool by the erection of artificial barriers. The safeguards must [71 Wis.2d 63] only be reasonable, and the question of whether the safeguards employed by defendants in this case were reasonable cannot be determined at this stage of the proceedings.

Many previous cases in this court have dealt with the problem of 'attractive nuisance,' and particularly with the question of what constitutes an 'inherently dangerous' condition. In Kempen, supra, a seven-and-a-half-year-old child fell from a 'spillway or canal overflow' into an adjoining river and was drowned. This court held that a conclusory allegation that the spillway was inherently dangerous was insufficient to state a cause of action, and that additional allegations would be necessary to show that the spillway was constructed in such a manner that the risks were not apparent to the drowned child. The court stated:

'. . . the allegation in the complaint here, that the spillway or canal overflow was inherently dangerous to children, is a conclusion, not admitted by demurrer, and . . . in the absence of allegations as to a defect in the structure or other peculiar circumstance, which was hidden from the child or which a child would fail to appreciate because of his immaturity, a child must be held to knowledge and appreciation of the obvious risks involved in going along or in playing in close proximity to a spillway or canal overflow, even though the complaint alleges that he was unaware of such risks.' Kempen, 66 Wis. at 192, 224 N.W.2d at 206 (emphasis supplied.)

One of the leading Wisconsin cases on 'inherent danger' is Schilz v. Walter Kassuba, Inc. (1965), 27 Wis.2d 390, 134 N.W.2d 453, where a ten-year-old child had been injured in a fall from a large pipe protruding from the ground. The court spoke of the obviousness of the danger to the child, saying:

'The risk involved in (playing on the pipes) was simple and obvious. Indeed the challenge offered by the risk of falling is probably what provided the fun. There is no suggestion of any surprising danger, such as instability of the pipes, or unusual slipperiness.' Schilz at 394, 134 N.W.2d at 455.

[71 Wis.2d 64] The court concluded that, in the absence of any allegation that the pipes were deceptively dangerous, the complaint was insufficient:

'It appears generally to be the rule that a child is bound to appreciate a

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simple and obvious danger of falling from an object or structure, but is not bound to appreciate a danger presented or exaggerated by a defect in the structure or other peculiar circumstance, which is hidden from the child or which a child would fail to appreciate because of his immaturity.

'We conclude that an allegation that the four pipes, as described in the instant complaint, were inherently dangerous to children is a conclusion, not admitted by demurrer, and that as a matter of law plaintiff must be held to knowledge and appreciation of the obvious risk of falling from the pipes even though the complaint alleged she was unaware of it.' Schilz at 396--97, 134 N.W.2d at 457 (emphasis supplied).

The court went on to quote with approval a comment to the Restatement, Torts 2d, p. 203, sec. 339:

'There are many dangers, such as those of fire and water, or of falling from a height, which under ordinary conditions may reasonably be expected to be fully understood and appreciated by any child of an age to be allowed at large. To such conditions the rule stated in this Section ordinarily has no application, in the absence of some other factor creating a special risk that the child will not avoid the danger, such as the fact that the condition is so hidden as not to be readily visible, or a distracting influence which makes it likely that the child will not discover or appreciate it.' (Emphasis supplied.)

The term 'of an age to be allowed at large' is not self-defining. Does it refer merely to a child's physical ability to walk a distance? We think not. It must refer to the child's possession of maturity sufficient to travel 'at large' on his own, unsupervised. Does travel 'at large' include crossing of busy highways or intersections, for example, or venturing into a neighbor's backyard for a look at the swimming pool? Whether a four-year old [71 Wis.2d...

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6 practice notes
  • Christians v. Homestake Enterprises, Ltd., No. 79-852
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • 11 Mayo 1981
    ...32 Wis.2d 211, 217, 145 N.W.2d 186 (1966); Kastenson v. Kastenson, 54 Wis.2d 401, 404, 405, 195 N.W.2d 454 (1972); McWilliams v. Guzinski, 71 Wis.2d 57, 61, 64, 237 N.W.2d 437 Sec. 339 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965), like the Angelier decision, avoids the misnomer "attract......
  • Wirth v. Ehly, No. 77-470
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • 15 Enero 1980
    ...for establishing an attractive nuisance is that the child of tender years be a trespasser upon the premises. McWilliams v. Guzinski, 71 Wis.2d 57, 61, 237 N.W.2d 437 (1976). Salmo Pond is a public facility and therefore Donald Wirth was not a trespasser when There is no general exception to......
  • Keller v. Welles Dept. Store of Racine, No. 78-032
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • 26 Enero 1979
    ...common knowledge that children are attracted to swimming pools and that precautions must therefore be taken. See McWilliams v. Guzinski, 71 Wis.2d 57, 62, 237 N.W.2d 437, 439 (1976) (holding that an insufficiently guarded swimming pool in a residential area is an attractive nuisance to a fo......
  • Waters by Murphy v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Co., No. 84-573
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • 10 Abril 1985
    ...limitation has also been recognized to prevent recovery in "attractive nuisance" cases. See McWilliams v. Guzinski, 71 Wis.2d 57, 63-64, 237 N.W.2d 437, 439-40 (1976); Kempen v. Green Bay & Mississippi Canal Co., 66 Wis.2d 185, 224 N.W.2d 202 (1974), and Schilz v. Walter Kassu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Christians v. Homestake Enterprises, Ltd., No. 79-852
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • 11 Mayo 1981
    ...32 Wis.2d 211, 217, 145 N.W.2d 186 (1966); Kastenson v. Kastenson, 54 Wis.2d 401, 404, 405, 195 N.W.2d 454 (1972); McWilliams v. Guzinski, 71 Wis.2d 57, 61, 64, 237 N.W.2d 437 Sec. 339 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965), like the Angelier decision, avoids the misnomer "attract......
  • Wirth v. Ehly, No. 77-470
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • 15 Enero 1980
    ...for establishing an attractive nuisance is that the child of tender years be a trespasser upon the premises. McWilliams v. Guzinski, 71 Wis.2d 57, 61, 237 N.W.2d 437 (1976). Salmo Pond is a public facility and therefore Donald Wirth was not a trespasser when There is no general exception to......
  • Keller v. Welles Dept. Store of Racine, No. 78-032
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • 26 Enero 1979
    ...common knowledge that children are attracted to swimming pools and that precautions must therefore be taken. See McWilliams v. Guzinski, 71 Wis.2d 57, 62, 237 N.W.2d 437, 439 (1976) (holding that an insufficiently guarded swimming pool in a residential area is an attractive nuisance to a fo......
  • Waters by Murphy v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Co., No. 84-573
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • 10 Abril 1985
    ...limitation has also been recognized to prevent recovery in "attractive nuisance" cases. See McWilliams v. Guzinski, 71 Wis.2d 57, 63-64, 237 N.W.2d 437, 439-40 (1976); Kempen v. Green Bay & Mississippi Canal Co., 66 Wis.2d 185, 224 N.W.2d 202 (1974), and Schilz v. Walter Kassu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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