Legal: Homeowner Liability
As the Christmas holidays approach rapidly, we often organize gatherings with numerous visitors in our homes. However, amongst the joy and merriment, the odds of an injury occurring in/around your home rises significantly due to the increase in guests. Over the years I have seen individuals injured in others’ homes in a variety of ways – from slipping on a rug, tumbling over from a cracked driveway, falling down a step that is loose, being burned by a falling turkey, or even anaphylactic shock from unknown peanuts in grandma’s stuffing. Injuries happen in homes just like they happen everywhere else. What is often different is the person injured is likely a family member or friend of the homeowner, meaning you may have to be more sensitive when handling the issue to try and preserve family relations or friendships.
Keeping Family and Visitors Safe
Before your holiday guests arrive, do an inspection of the areas of the home where the visitors may be during their stay. If there are problems in the driveway (cracks, loose concrete, etc.) then put up a warning sign, do something to repair the issue, or designate an individual to stand in that spot as visitors arrive to assist them in traversing across the defective area. If there is a loose step on the stairs, fix it (or at least put up a warning cone) or have the visitors come in a different entrance such as through the garage or a back door. Look for items that may fall from a high shelf, ensure there are no extension cords running across the rooms that somebody could trip on, remove items that a child could get a hold of and injure themselves with, remove candles so that you are not tempted to light them for your festivities, and generally look for anything out of the ordinary. In one situation, a child was seriously injured by an electric wire sticking out of an outlet missing a cover plate. A simple inspection and a $1.00 cover plate would have prevented what became a nightmare for all involved.
Injuries can often be avoided if you set clear rules for your visitors. For example, if you have a pool in the backyard, ensure that children cannot get access to it without adults being present. Likewise, many injuries occur in the kitchen (you should always have a fire extinguisher/fire blanket out when visitors are in the kitchen and cooking), and thus, it might be best to let your guests know that children are not allowed in the kitchen due to safety concerns. It may seem mean or unfriendly to keep those little ones out of the kitchen during the holidays but children being burned in the kitchen is one of the most common injuries, and one of the simplest ones to avoid.
Someone Is Injured – What Do I Do?
If someone is injured, immediately get the medical attention that the person needs; waiting for proper care can make injuries much more serious and difficult to treat. In my experience, this can be especially true of burns that can go from bad to worse to much worse over the course of a few days.
When the injured person is receiving the proper care and/or is stabilized, document the scene. This may seem a bit impersonal when individuals are hurt and your friends and family are around, but the best time to document the accident is right when it happened. Take photographs and/or video of the area where the injury occurred, the injures (if appropriate), and document who were witnesses to the event. If you have home video cameras (such as Ring cameras) that may have caught any of the events, try and obtain the video and preserve it before the video is lost or deleted.
If the injuries are potentially extensive and you have insurance on your home, you need to also contact your insurer to report the incident. Insurers will often respond with “call us when you get a letter from a lawyer” or something similar. However, under most policies of insurance, you have a duty to report the incident as soon as possible. Therefore, if you report it and the insurance does not do anything, at least you have satisfied your duty to report.
More proactive insurers may immediately start an investigation and begin contacting the injured to help streamline the investigation and determine if there are benefits the insurer can provide to the injured. Ultimately, if you are sued and have insurance coverage, your insurer will be involved in defending the lawsuit and potentially paying the claim.
Finally, you may want to talk to an attorney. Especially if you do not have insurance (but even if you do) an attorney can provide you with advice on how to respond to questions, steps to take, and the process in general. Insurance companies “insure” you – they do not represent you. An attorney is the only person you can ensure has your best interests at heart.
The holidays are a time for friends and family to come together and enjoy the season. Before your company arrives, do a safety check, and take precautions. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, injuries can (and do) occur anywhere and at any time. If an injury does happen in/around your home, it is vital to ensure that the injured party gets the help they need immediately, and then let the process work its way to a fitting conclusion. In the end, the kinship and/or friendship will hopefully withstand the injury and the events that follow. After all, injuries in life come and go, but family and friends are forever.