Homeowner Liability and Safety
A home can be a place of refuge from the daily stresses of life, but keeping a safe and nurturing home takes a fair degree of work. Homeowners have a responsibility to keep the physical structure of their home sound by monitoring heating systems and carbon monoxide levels. Homes with pools and spas must also take additional precautions to avoid harmful chemical imbalances or drowning deaths, and often are required by law to have a fence and/or protective pool cover. When guests (sometimes uninvited guests) injure themselves on your property, such as slipping and falling on an icy walkway, they can sue for monetary damages.
The Duty to Prevent Injury on Your Property
Those who own property, including homes and retail stores, have a certain degree of responsibility (or "duty") to ensure that no one suffers injuries due to their negligence. This legal responsibility (or "liability") varies from state to state and among different scenarios. For instance, homeowners have a duty to maintain a safe walkway in front of their home. If a delivery person slips and falls on your icy front porch and gets hurt, that individual may have a valid slip-and-fall injury claim against you.
The law is based on what may generally be considered "reasonable." Conducting regular inspections and responding to complaints about particular hazards, for example, are considered reasonable measures. But if someone in a grocery store slips and falls on a banana peel that was dropped just seconds earlier may not have a claim, since it's unreasonable to expect the business owner to inspect every inch of the floor throughout the day.
Legal Duty and Different Types of Visitors
The level of duty owed to another person who enters your property varies by circumstance and among different categories of people. For instance, homeowners owe more of a duty to those implicitly invited than to trespassers. A brief explanation of each category follows:
- Invitees - An invitee is someone invited onto a property for business reasons, such as a customer entering a store, and are owed the highest duty to reasonably look for and correct otherwise unknown hazards in those areas to which an invitee may have access
- Licensees - A licensee is someone invited onto a property for social reasons, such as guests of a party or informal gathering of friends; property owners must take reasonable steps to protect licensees from known hazards
- Trespassers - By definition, trespassers are not authorized to enter the property; but landowners still are liable for injuries to trespassers under certain circumstances, such as injurious conditions created or maintained by the property owner
- Trespassing Children - Unlike adult trespassers, child trespassers are owed a much greater degree duty to ensure the area is free of hazards because they are sometimes naive to certain dangers
People aren't supposed to come onto your property without authorization; but when something hazardous is likely to attract children, such as a swimming pool, you must take extra steps to secure the area. Such hazards are referred to as "attractive nuisances" in legal terms. The attractive nuisance doctrine has the following components:
- Children are not expected by law to fully understand the dangers in their vicinity
- Property owners who have a reason to believe children may want to enter their property must take extra precautions to prevent harm
- When property owners fail to take these extra precautions, resulting in a child's injuries, then they typically are held liable for these injuries
Taking the time to understand the liability of a property owner can help prevent future legal problems. Click on a link below to learn more about homeowner liability and safety.