June is Home Safety Month and the National Safety Council encourages people to inspect their homes and to make them as safe as possible – both for their families and for visitors.
One of the first things to inspect is your insurance policy.
In order to protect yourself against the claims of an injured visitor, the best thing you can do as a landowner is to have a comprehensive liability insurance policy in place. Most comprehensive policies provide coverage for injuries occurring on your property but it is a good idea to talk to your insurance agent to confirm you have adequate coverage. Renter’s can also purchase general liability coverage to protect themselves against injury claims.
And if someone IS injured on your property, call you insurance agent as soon as possible so your insurance company will be on notice of the accident or injury, and help guide you through any claims process.
The theme for 2013’s Home Safety Month is “Safety Starts With Me.”
As a visitor on someone’s property, you have the legal duty to exercise reasonable care for your own safety and to avoid open and obvious dangerous conditions on the property. If the danger is apparent and you are injured, you may not be able to recover anything from the landowner.
Since as a visitor you may be unfamiliar with the property, be sure to watch for trip and fall hazards on the inside floors like unsecured rugs and children’s toys, and outside on walkways and in yards. Use bannisters and railings where provided, and turn on lights so you can see unfamiliar spaces. In general, WATCH where you are going!
While you consider Home Safety during June, it is also a good time for property owners to understand their legal duty towards visitors and the potential legal liability they face if someone unfortunately is injured on their property.
When someone is injured on your property, you may be responsible for their medical bills, lost wages and any pain and suffering resulting from the injury. Your legal duty toward the injured person, and your potential legal liability for their injury, depends upon into which legal category the injured person falls. In Kentucky, there are three categories: trespasser, licensee and invitee.
Because a trespasser has no legal right to be on your property, you owe no duty toward him other than not to harm him intentionally.
A licensee is someone who comes onto land with the landowner’s consent, like a social guest who comes to a party, dinner or bible study at your home. With licensees, you have the duty to exercise reasonable care to make sure your property is safe, and to warn against known and hidden dangerous conditions.
An invitee is someone who is invited unto the land by the landowner, usually for a business purpose of the landowner. You are an invitee when you go to the mall, the grocery store, a movie theater, or any business that invites you onto their property to spend your money. These landowners owe invitees the duty to maintain their property in a safe condition, to inspect for any defects, to make all necessary repairs, and to warn about dangers known or about which the landowner should know.
Insurance will not cover injuries resulting from intentional acts, such as the landowner getting into a physical altercation with a party guest who is subsequently injured. In that scenario, insurance will not cover any injuries sustained by the guest and the landowner will be personally responsible.
If your home also operates as your business, think about the particular hazards or dangers inherent your business. You may consider additional liability coverage under a commercial policy to cover any accidents and injuries arising out of your business operations.
Courts may impose a tougher liability standard when children are injured since children cannot appreciate potential dangers like adults can. And although you normally have no duty toward a trespasser, a duty may arise if the trespasser is a child. If you maintain an “attractive nuisance” on your property, like a swimming pool or trampoline, you have the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect trespassing children who may not appreciate the dangers of the attractive nuisance.
Under the social host liability doctrine, you may be liable if you serve alcohol to a guest who then injures a third party after leaving your home. Kentucky does not yet impose social host liability although states are trending in that direction. A recent Kentucky court decision hinted that liability might hinge on whether an injury to a third party turns was foreseeable by the landowner. For example, if a drunk guest drives home and wrecks his car, injuring a third party, that is probably more foreseeable than a guest assaulting a third party after leaving the premises. The best advise to keep your home safe, and to keep your guests and third parties safe, is to monitor your guests’ alcohol consumption, and do not allow drunk guests to drive a vehicle.
In recognition of Home Safety Month, the Becker Law Office encourages you to take the time to thoroughly inspect your home and property, and to make any necessary repairs to ensure the safe enjoyment of your property for yourself, family and friends, and visitors alike. And for more home safety tips, check out www.safetyathome.com.