Five Home Safety Modifications You May Wish to Incorporate
Making sure your home is safe for guests is one of the best ways to protect yourself against premises liability and negligence lawsuits. Ensuring that your homeowner’s insurance policy is up to date and has adequate coverage also helps in situations where you, as a homeowner, might face liability for someone else’s injuries. Whether someone sues you for negligence or premises liability depends on the individual’s status on your property at the time of the accident and the cause of the injury. In some cases, age might play a role, as well.
Three Types of People
The three types of people entering a property include an invitee, a licensee, and a trespasser. An invitee is someone who enters a piece of property for the benefit of the property owner and the invitee. People entering a mall or a convenience store are invitees, for example. A licensee is someone who enters a property for his or her own benefit. People who are usually considered licensees are salespeople and guests in your home. Finally, a trespasser is someone who enters the property without your permission or without a legal right. Property owners owe invitees, licensees, and trespassers different duties of care. A property owner owest the highest duty of care to an invitee and the lowest to a trespasser.
Premises Liability or Negligence?
When someone decides to sue you because he or she sustained injuries on your property, that individual must sue under the correct legal cause: premises liability or negligence. Someone might sue for premises liability if your property’s poor condition caused his or her injuries, such as a broken sidewalk causing a trip and fall. The plaintiff might sue for negligence if the defendant’s actions caused the accident, such as a homeowner working on the exterior of his or her house and dropping a hammer on a guest’s head.
While both types of accidents constitute negligence, plaintiffs have to prove different elements depending on the case. For a premises liability claim, you—the plaintiff—must show that the defendant knew about the cracked sidewalk and that the sidewalk created an “unreasonable” risk of causing injury. The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant did not use “reasonable care” to get rid of the risk and that the defendant failed to adequately mitigate the risk.
For someone to sue for negligence, that person must show that the defendant owed a duty to visitors to keep the property safe, that the defendant did not keep the property safe, and that the non-mitigation of the risk caused your injuries. Additionally, you must have suffered actual damages. This area of law is often complicated, so you should always seek legal counsel if you sustained injuries on someone else’s property.
Mitigating Premises Liability and Negligence: Home Safety Modifications
Ensuring that your home is safe for guests is one of the best ways to avoid a lawsuit for premises liability or negligence. As soon as you notice something that could potentially cause injuries, you should repair it. Obviously, there are some things you can’t or might not want to change, such as a hill in your yard that gets slippery in the rain or a tree in the front yard that might fall in hurricane-strength winds. Consider taking the following precautions to reduce your liability:
Make sure you have adequate lighting to ensure that guests do not trip or run into anything if they are visiting at night. If your driveway is directly in front of the door or porch, an outside light by the door might be enough. However, if your guests have even a short walk from the driveway to the door or porch, you might consider adding some floodlights on the corners of your house or lighting along a longer walkway.
Many property owners prefer to have staggered pavers for walkways. However, that leaves you open to liability should someone trip on a paver or step on the edge of a paver. Instead, make sure that you keep the pavers close together and fill in the spaces between the pavers with paver cement. If you have a concrete or paved walkway, keep potholes filled, fill in cracks, and make sure cement walkways are even.
Your steps should have graspable railings on both sides, unless one side is against a wall. Make sure the steps are always in good condition, and that no bricks, stones, or wooden pieces are cracked or broken. If your steps and walkways become icy, you should use ice-melting materials. Even table salt will melt ice above 15 degrees Fahrenheit, though it’s effectiveness decreases significantly as temperatures drop.
4. Home Maintenance
Even poor home maintenance could open you up to liability. If you have a leaking roof that you don’t fix, the leak causes damage to the ceilings, and part of the ceiling falls on a guest, you may face liability for your guest’s injuries. Faulty appliances, wiring, and plumbing can also cause injuries to you and your guests. Always make sure your home’s wiring, plumbing, and appliances are in good working order.
If you frequently have guests in your yard, or you have a landscaper who cares for your yard, you may face liability for injuries that result from any problems with the land, including a hole your dog dug or an act of nature, such as a sinkhole. If you are aware of landscaping issues on your property, you owe a duty to your guests to cordon off the problem area or to repair it.
For example, if water washes away part of your yard at the end of the summer, leaves cover the washout during the fall and winter, and then you trip on the washout, then this constitutes a problem of which you are aware. In such circumstances, if your landscaper mows in the area, and the mower’s wheels drop into the washout, causing the mower to tip over and injure the landscaper, then you may face liability if you did not tell the landscaper about the problem, try to repair the problem, or cordon off the area.
Keeping your home well-maintained goes a long way in preventing someone from sustaining injuries on your property and filing a premises liability lawsuit against you.