Protect Yourself Against Property Owner Liability
As a property owner, you have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to protect someone from being injured on your property. In the legal world, it is called the duty of care. You must make sure that a person on your property is safe and protected from the potential of injury. While the exact legal definition can vary from state to state, there are still similarities in ways that you can protect yourself from legal liabilities when a person is injured or harmed on your property.
An overall assessment of the property is a good place to start when evaluating your potential liabilities. You walk around the property with a piece of paper and mark down areas that need to be addressed. You locate gaps in fencing that need to be repaired or sidewalks that are cracked. Perhaps, you identify boards that have become rotten on the deck or power tools that are easily accessible. Once you have completed the assessment, you develop a plan on ways to reduce your liability from these problems. You start marking the items off the list until you have limited your overall exposure.
Four Types of People
When lawyers consider a personal injury lawsuit, one of the first things they consider is the classification of the person who was injured on the property. These can change slightly from state to state, but generally, there are four types of people on a property — invitee, social guest, licensee, or trespasser. Each classification has a different legal status. An invitee is someone who was invited onto the property. This might be like a customer at a store. A licensee is a person who is on the property as a guest of the owner. For example, a friend having dinner at your house could be considered a licensee. A social guest is a welcome visitor to the property, but a social guest can be classified as either a licensee or an invitee. A trespasser is someone on the property without permission. Negligence on the part of a property owner can be easier or harder to prove depending on the victim’s classification.
Safeguard Dangerous Areas
A swimming pool on your property needs to be secured. The same is true of a shed with chemicals, tools, and equipment. These areas must be secure in order to limit the chance that someone is injured. You have a legal obligation.
To reduce your risk of liability, it is a good idea to inform visitors about potential dangers on the property. You can tell guests to avoid the steps off the back porch or to be careful when getting in and out of the hot tub. That way, if someone is injured, you claim that you informed the person about the potential risks.
Children occupy a special classification in liability law, and you must take extra precautions to prevent an injury to a child. This is often referred to as attractive nuisance. For example, a hot tub might be classified as an attractive nuisance. Even if a child is trespassing on your property, you might still be liable if the child is harmed by the hot tub. The same can be true for a tree fort or swing. These are objects that could be known to attract the attention of children, and the children’s parents would have to prove in court that the child did not understand the risks. If you have reason to believe that children might come onto your property, the law places a special responsibility on you to prevent harm.
Condition of the Property
Hazards on your property can cause a person to suffer serious injuries if he or she trips, slips, or falls, and in many states, the condition of the property plays a role in the owner’s liability. Property owners must exercise a reasonable amount of care under a uniform standard. There are a variety of factors that determine if the property owner was acting responsibly when caring for a property, such as the circumstances under which the injured person was on the property and the way in which the property was being used. As well, the court will look at whether the property owner informed the visitor about potential safety hazards.
Calculating legal liability when someone is injured on your property is complicated. In many states, the liability is divided between the property owner and the person who was injured. It’s called “comparative fault,” and damages are based on the amount of fault attributed to the injured person. Your lawyer might claim that a reasonable person would not have walked on the cracked sidewalk or would have noticed that the railing on the deck was broken. In that case, a jury might find that the property owner was only 60% at fault and damages would be calculated damages accordingly.