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Homeowner Liability and Safety

If you or your family members own a private property like a condominium or single-family home, be aware of premises liability. That means you have a duty of care to injured parties on your homeowner's property. You can't treat homeownership however you want if it interferes with others' safety. You must take reasonable care to prevent personal injury to visitors.

Guests who injure themselves on your property can sue for monetary damages. The last thing a home buyer wants is to see people slipping and falling in a walkway in their house. But omissions, like failing to clean up personal property that people might trip on, can lead to just that. There are general legal disclaimers that homeowners must follow to keep visitors safe. While these principles always apply, they can vary based on:

  • State laws
  • City ordinances
  • Local building codes

The Duty To Prevent Injury on Your Property

Those who own property, including homes and retail stores, may have premises liability. They have a responsibility (or "duty") to ensure that no one suffers injuries due to their negligence. This legal responsibility (or "liability") varies by state law and circumstance.

For instance, homeowners have a duty to maintain a safe walkway in front of their home. But suppose a delivery person slips and falls on your icy front porch and gets hurt. They may have a valid slip-and-fall injury claim against you.

The law is based on what may generally be considered "reasonable." Examples considered reasonable measures include:

  • Conducting regular inspections
  • Responding to complaints about particular hazards

Personal injury law is focused on reasonable actions that can be taken given the circumstances. Someone who slips and falls in a grocery store on a banana peel dropped just seconds earlier may not have a claim. 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
  • Types of people

For instance, homeowners owe a greater duty to those 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. Invitees are owed the highest duty to reasonably look for and correct otherwise unknown hazards in areas where an invitee may have access.
  • Licensees: A licensee is someone invited onto a property for social reasons. This can be guests at a party or an 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 are still 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 of duty to ensure the area is free of hazards. This is because they are sometimes naïve to certain dangers.

Attractive Nuisances

People aren't supposed to come onto your property without permission. 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:

  1. Children aren't expected by law to fully understand the dangers in their vicinity;
  2. Property owners who have a reason to believe children may want to enter their property must take extra precautions to prevent harm; and
  3. When property owners fail to take these extra precautions, resulting in a child's injuries, they typically are held liable for these injuries

Recognizing Dangerous Conditions on Your Property

Consider tips about recognizing danger and reviewing your property's overall safety. You can check for things like:

  • Water leaks
  • The integrity and height of your fencing and locks
  • Exposed wiring and cables
  • Loose tree branches

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 real estate sound by:

  • Monitoring heating systems
  • Maintaining safe carbon monoxide levels

Homes with pools and spas must take additional precautions to avoid harmful chemical imbalances or drowning deaths. They are often required by law to have a fence or protective pool cover. Dangerous or wild animals must be properly trained and restrained. If you invite a guest who ends up with a dog bite, you may be liable to them for their personal injuries.

How a Homeowners Insurance Policy Can Help

Your home liability insurance may cover some scenarios. But many insurance companies have exclusion terms that deny you protection if you fail to prevent harm. There are also liability coverage limits, depending on the kind of insurance coverage you purchase. Still, it's best to have insurance so you can get the maximum protection against claims.

Taking the time to understand a property owner's liability can help prevent future legal problems. Click on a link below to learn more about homeowner liability and safety and how a personal injury lawyer can help.

Learn About Homeowner Liability and Safety

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