Every now and then, we have people visiting our house for many different reasons. The most common would be family and friends visiting us. Have you thought about who else goes to your property? Let’s say— the pizza delivery guy, the cable guy, the cleaners, perhaps your child’s private tutor or babysitter, the nice neighbor who from time to time brings you freshly baked goods, the dog walker, your parents’ insurance broker for their Medicare Supplement… the list could go on. Now, the big question is, do you realize that every time someone steps on your property, you are somehow responsible for their safety? It does make sense, right? If people didn’t think your place was a safe place, why would they visit? So, to a certain extent, there is a commonly shared expectation in regards to safety and security when it comes to another person’s property… the same way that when you visit your friend at his house, you’re not expecting any harm to come to you.
But the bigger question is, have you thought about what might happen if someone were to be injured while inside your house, in the garden, the garage, or anywhere else on your property? What if the cable guy or the plumber got bitten by your dog, or what if the babysitter slipped and hit her head on the floor because the floor was unexpectedly wet because of water dripping from the ceiling? Nobody wishes for it, but accidents do happen. As the owner of the property, of course, you’d do your part in keeping your property a safe place. After all, you do live there and you either have loved ones living with you, or visiting you from time to time. Below are a few things to consider and also a few situations that may arise in case the unexpected happens and someone gets injured at your property.
What to expect
Nobody wants to be the cause or the victim of any injury. But when somebody does get injured, the victim looks for somebody to blame and that somebody won’t be oneself. In fact, under the law, it is the legal duty or responsibility of the homeowner or whoever rents the place to make sure that “their premises are reasonably safe and free of hazards”--the reason being that other people are not in danger of being exposed to injury while on someone else’s property.
Depending on who gets injured or the kind of relationship you have with them, what comes after an accident on your property can range from you offering to take them to the nearest hospital and cover medical expenses, to you being sued on the grounds that the accident was due to your negligence.
Am I at risk of being sued by anyone who gets injured on my property?
The simple answer to this question is ‘yes’. And yes, this includes trespassers. Every person who steps on your property and is injured may file a personal injury claim against you.
However, your liability may also depend on factors such as how the person was injured, why that person was on your property, and which state you are in. There are states that find some types of guests require a ‘higher duty of care’ from the homeowner. Let’s talk about this in more detail.
Customers. The highest standard of care would typically be expected for this group of visitors. If you run a business, especially where you expect walk-in customers, you need to make sure that the premises are free from hazards such as slippery floors or anything that might cause an injury to someone, whether directly or indirectly. For example, you would be liable if Mrs. Jones slips and fractures her hip because there wasn’t any sign saying the floor was wet or that it could be slippery--she couldn’t have known.
Invitees. This group includes those who the homeowner has invited for legal purposes or members of the public who are invited to attend an event at the property. Examples are business contractors, people you hire to fix things on your property, and people who might be potential customers who are visiting your property because you put up a sign that you’re holding a garage sale.
Social Guests. Whether your friends from work are at your property because you invited them to a party or they went to visit because you’ve been sick, they can make personal injury claims when an accident happens while they’re on your property.
Trespassers. You might be thinking, “Why would I be liable for any injury a trespasser sustains while on my property when the person shouldn’t be on my property in the first place?” Well, the law is the law, but do note that a trespasser is not entitled to the same ‘duty of care’ as an invited guest or a customer. When it comes to trespassers, in fact, what a homeowner would be liable for also differs depending on whether the trespasser is a ‘discovered trespasser’ or not. When a burglar enters someone’s home by breaking window glass and hurts himself in the process, then the homeowner will not be liable for any injury unless the situation was caused by a trap set up by the homeowner.
How to avoid accidents and prevent someone from being injured on your property
The thought of being liable for the safety of every single person who steps on your property and being at risk of being sued for something you wouldn’t have wanted to happen in the first place can be daunting. But it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to lessen the probability of someone being injured while they are on your property, and hence lessen the chances of anyone filing a personal injury claim against you. The following are some of the things you can do as a precautionary measure, not just to avoid claims against you, but also to ensure the safety of your guests.
- Put warning signs. When the floor is wet, obvious or not, put a sign/s so that anyone coming from any direction will see it. The same thing goes for dogs. When you have a dog on your property, no matter how small, put up a sign letting people know that you have one.
- It is best to keep dogs (or any other pet that might bite a guest) in a kennel whenever you have guests coming over.
- Staircases should be well-lit. Don’t give anyone any reason to hit their head or fall and say that it was because the area was too dark.
- Especially when there’s some sort of repair or construction work going on, whether it’s a big renovation or just a part of the roof being repaired, make sure that there is no chance anything will fall and hit anybody.
The list could go on and on, but the main point is that you do everything you can to avoid accidents/injury and let your guests know if there is a safety hazard on your property.
How to avoid being liable for a burglar’s injuries
Now, because being liable for a burglar’s injury can be quite difficult to accept and probably unbelievable to most, here are a few suggestions to minimize your liability.
- Post signs saying “NO TRESPASSING”. This takes away the excuse that they did not know it was a private property they entered.
- Do not, under any circumstance, set traps for unwanted ‘visitors’. If the trap ends up causing injury to the burglar, you can be held liable should the burglar decide to file a personal injury lawsuit against you.
- Contact local authorities as soon as you notice signs that someone has trespassed onto your property. Note that once you are aware that someone is on your property, you are held accountable for their safety. Reporting or informing the authorities of any signs of intrusion will initiate an investigation and will be proof that the person on your property was unwelcome.
- Never shoot a gun randomly. This not only makes you liable for the injury caused on the burglar, it also puts others, including yourself, at risk.
- Don’t use ‘deadly force’- even if your intention is to scare the burglar away. In general, state laws don’t find protection of property to be justifiable cause to use deadly force. The protection of the property is not the same as personal safety.
- Fix safety hazards as soon as you find out about them. It is best for everyone’s safety, including yours, to address any safety hazards as soon as possible.
- Consider using a burglar alarm. Instead of you trying to scare a burglar away, it is also for your safety to avoid any contact with a potentially armed and/or dangerous person. A burglar alarm lets them know that they’ve been found out and at the same time lets authorities know of the situation almost instantaneously.
In simpler terms, at the very least, everyone is entitled to know whether or not there is some form of hazard that they should be aware of the moment they step into your property. As the property owner, you are duty-bound to take every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of those who will be on your property. So, the best way is to be diligent about where things are placed on your property to avoid accidents. And when safety hazards are known, for example, a dog in the yard or construction going on, it is best to put a sign that anyone entering the property would see.
When accidents happen and someone is injured, it can be a real burden on everyone involved. It not only disrupts everyday life, but it can cause financial stress. For starters, someone will have to pay for medical expenses. And what if the injured person decides to file a lawsuit? Then you might not just have to pay for the medical expenses. You’d have to hire a lawyer to defend you. Whether you try to settle or are found liable for personal injury, it can be quite costly. But if you are a property owner and you have a homeowners insurance in place, then there is less risk of having to worry about medical expenses or expenses brought about by a lawsuit filed against you. Depending on the amount of coverage you have, your insurance carrier might be shouldering all of the expenses. If you need assistance with your existing insurance coverage, call us today at 720-221-8168 or our toll-free line at 1-877-658-2472. We'll review your existing policy with you for free and see if it truly fits your needs.
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