For those people who own a home or property, liability will always be somewhere in the back of their minds. It can be a source of anxiety, but giving it consideration can be a good idea. The best ways to do this is to prepare and inspect your property to prevent an accident.
Property owners have a duty of care to every person who accesses their property; this includes friends, family, wandering kids, and repair people. Duty of care refers to a property owner's obligation to keep people on their property safe. The only people you do not have to keep safe are most trespassers.
In order to protect yourself against a lawsuit, should someone get hurt on your property, it is best to ensure your property is free of hazards. You should also understand what areas are most commonly hazardous and ensure you have the proper insurance coverage. These preventative steps can help you to greatly reduce any problems that might occur.
Identify and secure dangerous areas.
A majority of accidents occur in three commonly dangerous areas: walkways, stairwells, and swimming pools. They are dangerous and accident-prone areas for pretty obvious reasons; people trip on walkways, people fall down stairwells, and people drown in pools. It's pretty hard to fall, trip, or drown on a couch (though there are some possibilities).
Assessing, preparing, and repairing these areas routinely, is a great way to eliminate a large chunk of your potential liability.
Walkways are generally hazardous areas, mostly because they receive a lot of foot traffic. The more people use a certain area, the more likely accidents are to occur there. In order to prevent accidents on these highly trafficked areas of your home or business, follow these steps:
- Keep walkways free of any clutter, spills, or objects in walkways.
- Routinely check walkways for new hazards, like cracks in the sidewalks, uneven surfaces, or leaking rain gutters that empty onto the area.
- Install a significant amount of lighting in the area. Make sure that the walkway is well lit in every area so that all walking paths are clearly visible, even at night.
- Improve the surface of highly trafficked areas to make them slip resistant. This could mean putting down rugs, non-slip mats, or even coating the walkway with a slip-resistant coating.
- If you notice any hazards, either repair them or cordon the area off as soon as possible. The longer hazards are exposed, the more you're at risk.
Stairwells add a whole new level of danger to already common accidents. When someone slips and falls on a flat surface, they only fall four to six feet; when someone falls on a staircase, they could fall 15, 20, 30 feet or more. Needless to say, stairwells should receive a decent amount focus from any homeowner looking to protect themselves.
- If you do not have one already, add a sturdy handrail on one or both sides of the stairs. Make sure it's made of a material that is easy to grip and long lasting, like metal. Check to ensure that any existing or newly installed handrails are properly secure and not loose in any way.
- As with walkways, make the landing at the bottom and the top of the stairs slip-resistant. You can do this by adding no-slip mats, carpeting (if they're indoors) or coating with a non-slip coating.
- Again, like the walkways, be sure there is plenty of lighting to illuminate the steps. The more lighting, the more easily your guests can see each step.
- Remove any clutter from the steps and the landings. Be sure there is nothing on the steps themselves, like toys or debris.
- Routinely check the stairwell for spills, hazards, and anything that may assist someone in tripping.
Swimming pools pose a major danger to your guests, especially to curious children. Pools are considered an attractive nuisance. Most states have laws that require pools to be surrounded by a fence, but this is not always enough. Unlike with adult trespassers, you may be liable for small children who wander onto your property and fall into your pool. If you own a pool, you are sure to already by aware of the liability concerns. Florida has more pools per home than most states. We are, after all, the Sunshine State.
Since they pose such a threat, make sure you do the following:
- As mentioned, install fences and/or walls completely around your pool. You want it to be nearly impossible for a wandering child to make it into your pool areas without an adult's help.
- Install self-closing gates and child-proof locks. Have you ever noticed that screen doors that lead to pools always have the handle at adult eye-level? That's to prevent children from accessing them. Ensure this is the case with any locks, handles, or latches that lead to your pool. You'd be surprised how young of a child can figure out complicated locks and latches.
- Remove anything around your fences and gates that could easily be used to assist someone in climbing over. This includes things that are in the fence's proximity since they could easily be moved over for the same purpose.
- Keep your pool deck and surrounding areas clear of clutter. When you or your kids are done swimming in the pool, have a designated place to put all toys and floats out of the way.
Likewise, lock up any pool chemicals to prevent accidental poisoning. Most chemicals used in pools are extremely toxic and can be deadly.
Ways to limit the risk of injury and liability on your property
Now that we have assessed common places that people are injured and how to improve them, let's look at some ways to limit the risk of injury, in general, on your property. These steps will also reduce your chance of liability, should someone still get hurt.
Try to get in the habit of:
- Regularly walking around your property, inside and out, to look for hazards.
- Clean up and repair any hazards as soon as possible.
- Turn on outside lights at night.
- Turn off any sprinklers, pick up loose items, etc. when guests are coming over.
- Put up wet floor signs to warn people of wet areas or spills (for businesses).
In general, it may be worth the investment to do the following to protect yourself and your guests:
- Install a fence(s) around your entire property to keep unwanted people and pets out. It will also help to show a court that you cared to protect others.
- Install cameras around your property. Not only are they great for preventing burglaries or to check on your kids when you're away from home, but the footage also makes for indisputable evidence in court cases.
- Install handrails, banisters, and step-ups in places where it's obviously a little difficult to navigate.
Terms for people on your property
There are different legal terms for different people who may get injured on your property. If you were injured on somebody's property, or someone was injured on your property, these terms may come up with your attorney or in court proceedings.
The following categories are based on why the person is on your property:
Licensees are probably the most common category of people who will be at your home. Licensees are people who you invited onto your property for social purposes. Licensees most commonly include:
- Family members
- Party guests
Invitees are people invited onto a property for business purposes. You want to afford invitees the highest duty of care since they are usually on your property for your benefit. Before you have invitees over to your home or business, you should inspect the premises for any liabilities. Invitees include people such as:
- A plumber, repair person, inspector, etc. (in home or business).
- Customers, job applicants, etc. (at home business or separate place of business).
Trespassers are perhaps the most contested and confusing types of people who you may be liable for on your property. Trespassers are obviously not invited onto your property and are there without authorization. Property owners have almost no obligation to protect trespassers. This includes:
- Strangers taking short-cuts across the property.
- Thieves or anyone on your property for nefarious reasons.
- Unwanted people that you may know, like ex-partners or ex-friends.
* This debunks the myth that people robbing your house in the middle of the night could sue you if they got hurt while running with your TV. This is not the case.
Children are the only category of trespassers that a property owner can be liable for. This includes:
- Neighborhood children playing on the property.
- Children who may have occupied your property, such as a tree fort or permanent play area, like a kickball field.
Liability: Owner vs Occupier
The person who lives on a property is not always the person who owns the property. This is most common in rental homes and apartment buildings. When this is the case, it can become a little unclear who would be responsible in the event of an injury. In these cases, the courts must determine whether the owner or the occupier is liable for injuries suffered on the property. In most cases, it comes down who had control over the hazard.
When determining this, a court takes the following concepts into account:
- Location of the accident. If an accident occurs inside the dwelling where the tenants live, then most injuries will be the responsibility of the occupier. However, if an injury occurs in a common area, like on a sidewalk or at the apartment's pool, then the owner will most likely be responsible.
- Owner's responsibility. The owner of a property has a responsibility to repair certain things around a property they are renting out. If someone slips in water and is injured because of a leaky pipe, even if it occurs inside, it will probably be the owner who is liable.
- Occupier's liability. An occupier is still responsible, within reason, for ensuring the safety of their guests and freeing their living space from hazards. Just because they are renting, does not mean they can leave hazards for people to injure themselves on. For example, if a tenant leaves water on the floor in the bathroom, then they are responsible. No court can expect an owner to be supervising their leased property 24 hours/7 days a week.
Following this guide can greatly help to reduce your risk of liability. It can also help to improve the safety of your family, friends, and guests. It's a win-win.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA–Personal Injury Attorneys
If you have been injured while on another's property, you may be legally entitled to recover financial compensation for your injuries. It is important that you retain a skilled and experienced attorney to help you navigate the complexities of litigation.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765