Pokemon Go & Your Property Risks

Technology has done some amazing things for our quality of life, such as letting us carry our entire music collection in our pocket, or drive cars that use no gasoline. But for every new improvement to our quality of life that technology brings, it can also complicate things. “Cyberbullying” was not something children of the 20th century had to deal with, but children today certainly do. And a new game, Pokemon Go, is treading into unhazy legal ground with questions about the legal rights that property owners have when people trespass into their property because a game encourages them to do so.

Pokemon Collecting

Pokemon itself is a Japanese import. This was an incredibly popular animated series and videogame based around the idea that fictional animals, called, collectively, Pokemon, could be captured, trained and then eventually used in friendly fights against other Pokemon. In both the cartoon and the game, “Pokemon Trainers” traveled the world seeking out Pokemon to befriend and raise, eventually going on to win competitions with their new animal friends.

This year, Pokemon made a return in a surprising new form. As mobile game that is now available on phones, people can virtually live out the childhood fantasy of being a Pokemon trainer through the game Pokemon Go. Users play the game by allowing their phone’s GPS system to track their exact, real world location, and then highlight various real world areas they can go to in order to track down Pokemon and “capture” them through an augmented reality mechanic. They go to the spots on their map where Pokemon appear, hold up their phone, and the videogame animals are super-imposed on a real world video image, as they engage in an attempt to capture and then eventually train their animals.

This has already caused a lot problems in ways people had expected and, tragically, not anticipated at all. Just this October, a nine year old in Japan was hit by a truck and died of his injuries two hours later in the hospital. The truck driver admitted he wasn’t paying attention to the road, because he was busy playing Pokemon Go.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, during the month of July, police responded to an unusual crime wave. Opportunistic muggers realized there was a relatively isolated area that the Pokemon Go game listed as being useful to players, so they placed a “beacon” on the area, which is normally a helpful piece of “book marking” to alert other players of a good spot, and lured in people to mug them.

Incidents like this show off the unexpected risks of Pokemon Go for people that are out and about in the world. But what about if you don’t go anywhere? Even if you’re staying at home, Pokemon Go may pose a risk to you, and you may not even know about it.

Animals, Stops & Nuisances

The problem for property owners dealing with Pokemon Go is that in order for players to progress in their game, they need to collect more animals, or “train” them in gyms, or collect special items in areas that are designated “PokeStops.” These different aspects of the game can be located anywhere, including a private property or residence. There have already been instances of home owners waking up late at night and seeing people or vehicles stopped just outside their home as people attempt to collect these in-game items.

Where things become complicated is with a legal concept known as attractive nuisance. This law is designed to address the idea that children, because they are young and do not yet understand many concepts we take for granted, may be lured onto a property by a swimming pool, treehouse, or some other fixture that would be naturally appealing.

This means that when a property owner has an attractive nuisance on the grounds of their property, if no extra steps are taken to discourage children from naturally trying to take advantage of that feature, then a property owner may be legally responsible for any injury sustained by a child. So, for example, if a swimming pool in a backyard has slides, and other features that are extremely appealing to the neighborhood children, and the owner doesn’t take any extraordinary measures to account for this, if a child has an accident in the pool, or even drowns, that child is not considered a trespasser, the property owner must now answer for the injury or death of the child.

This is clearly much easier to address when a property owner has built a feature into the property. But when a company has arbitrarily decided that a property has desirable Pokemon or other game features on it that make it attractive to children, this creates an unexpected trespassing situation with no legal precedent. This is something that people in the legal community, including the personal injury lawyers here at The St. Pete Lawyer, are looking into..