When Homeowners Are Legally Liable for Injuries to Guests
If you own your home, you may want to know more about what happens if someone else is injured in an accident on your property. For example, you might be hosting a party in your backyard when a guest trips and falls. Depending on the situation, you could be liable for the costs of that person’s injuries and other expenses arising from the accident. As a result, many homeowners find it prudent to buy insurance to protect them financially.
The question of whether a homeowner can be liable for someone else’s injuries on their property depends in part on the reason why that person was there. This is an overview of the varying duties owed to different types of potential victims.
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Visit the Premises Liability section of Justia’s Personal Injury Center to learn more about an individual’s liability for injuries occurring on their property.
An “invitee” is a legal term that covers people whom a homeowner invites onto their property for a business purpose. You might have retained a contractor to remodel your house, or you might want to sell an old car and invite people to your garage to see it. The highest duty of care applies in this situation. A homeowner needs to inspect for any dangerous conditions on the property and make repairs to address any hazards that are not open and obvious. In other words, they need to do what a reasonable person would do to ensure that the premises are safe.
Not all states distinguish between invitees and licensees in establishing a homeowner’s duty of care.
Most people who come onto your property probably can be classified as “licensees,” which is a term for a social guest, a friend, or a family member. A licensee has the homeowner’s permission to be on the property, but the homeowner does not receive a financial benefit from their presence. A homeowner has a slightly lesser duty to licensees than to invitees. They still need to act reasonably in preventing accidents caused by dangerous conditions on the property of which they knew or reasonably should have known. This may involve repairing the dangerous condition, or it may simply involve warning the guest of the condition so that they can avoid it. A key difference between invitees and licensees is that warnings are sufficient for licensees but not for invitees.
Generally, you do not need to take any steps to make your property safe for trespassers, who are people on the property without your permission. You do need to refrain from actively harming a trespasser, and some states impose a basic duty of care when the homeowner knows that the trespasser is on the property. A higher duty of care may apply to trespassing children under the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. Essentially, if children are likely to be attracted by a certain feature, homeowners should expect that they may come onto the property to explore it even if they are not invited. This may require them to take reasonable steps to protect children from injuries caused by hazards inherent to the feature. Perhaps the most common example is a swimming pool, which poses a risk of drowning for young children.
Injuries Caused by Tenants
If you rent out part of your property or a structure on it, you might not be liable to someone who is injured in the part of the property that your tenant controls. In many states, liability hinges on possession, so the tenant rather than the owner would be liable. To make sure that you understand how the laws in your state apply to you, you probably should consult an attorney if an accident occurs in this situation.